“Maoism, formally known as Mao Zedong Thought, is a political theory derived from the teachings of the Chinese political leader Mao Zedong… Maoism sees the agrarian peasantry, rather than the working class, as the key revolutionary force which can fundamentally transform capitalist society towards socialism. Holding that ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,’ Maoist organizations mainly draw upon Mao’s ideology of the People’s War, mobilizing large parts of rural populations to revolt against established institutions by engaging in guerrilla warfare. Maoism views the industrial-rural divide as a major division exploited by capitalism, identifying capitalism as involving industrial urban developed ‘First World’ societies ruling over rural developing ‘Third World’ societies.”
“Although Maoism is critical of urban industrial capitalist powers, it views urban industrialization as a required prerequisite to expand economic development and socialist reorganization to the countryside, with the goal being the achievement of rural industrialization that would abolish the distinction between town and countryside.”
“Maoism can also refer to the egalitarianism that was seen during Mao’s era as opposed to the free-market ideology of Deng Xiaoping…”
“Egalitarianism… is a trend of thought that favors equality for all people. Egalitarian doctrines maintain that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status… the term has two distinct definitions in modern English. It is defined either as a political doctrine that all people should be treated as equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights or as a social philosophy advocating the removal of economic inequalities among people or the decentralisation of power.”
…I took these definitions, amusingly, from Wikipedia. I needed something more to ground my understanding of the essay by Jaron Lanier, “Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism,” as it has been some time since I studied world history.
When I first read through the essay, it seemed to make a lot of sense to me. I was surprised, therefore, to find that a number of other forward-thinking authorities on the subject appeared to disagree with Lanier, at least in some respect. The featured comments following Lanier’s essay offered a broader range of thoughts relating to the subject and Lanier’s chosen descriptive term, Digital Maoism. Reading through these prompted me to question whether I fully understood the concepts and his argument, and if I really agreed with what he was saying.
If Lanier’s basic points were these:
- Wikipedia is troublesome because, “A core belief of the wiki world is that whatever problems exist in the wiki will be incrementally corrected as the process unfolds,” but unfortunately, “Sometimes loosely structured collective activities yield continuous improvements and sometimes they don’t.”
- Online collectivism is hazardous because, “In the last year or two the trend has been to remove the scent of people, so as to come as close as possible to simulating the appearance of content emerging out of the Web as if it were speaking to us as a supernatural oracle. This is where the use of the Internet crosses the line into delusion.”
- He also says, “The beauty of the Internet is that it connects people. The value is in the other people. If we start to believe the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we’re devaluing those people and making ourselves into idiots.”
- But collectivism can be useful when, “The reason the collective can be valuable is precisely that its peaks of intelligence and stupidity are not the same as the ones usually displayed by individuals. Both kinds of intelligence are essential.”
- And also, “If the code that ran the Wikipedia user interface were as open as the contents of the entries, it would churn itself into impenetrable muck almost immediately. The collective is good at solving problems which demand results that can be evaluated by uncontroversial performance parameters, but bad when taste and judgment matter.”
- Lanier concludes with, “The hive mind should be thought of as a tool. Empowering the collective does not empower individuals — just the reverse is true. There can be useful feedback loops set up between individuals and the hive mind, but the hive mind is too chaotic to be fed back into itself.”
- And, “The illusion that what we already have is close to good enough, or that it is alive and will fix itself, is the most dangerous illusion of all. By avoiding that nonsense, it ought to be possible to find a humanistic and practical way to maximize value of the collective on the Web without turning ourselves into idiots. The best guiding principle is to always cherish individuals first.”
Then some of the points and counterpoints from responders that I found most valuable were these:
- Lanier’s piece hits a nerve because human life always exists in tension between our individual and group identities, inseparable and incommensurable. For ten years now, it’s been apparent that the rise of the digital was providing enormous new powers for the individual. It’s now apparent that the world’s networks are providing enormous new opportunities for group action. Understanding how these cohabiting and competing revolutions connect to deep patterns of intellectual and social work is one of the great challenges of our age. — Clay Shirky
- The bottom-up hive mind will always take us much further that seems possible. It keeps surprising us. In this regard, the Wikipedia truly is exhibit A, impure as it is, because it is something that is impossible in theory, and only possible in practice. It proves the dumb thing is smarter than we think. At that same time, the bottom-up hive mind will never take us to our end goal. We are too impatient. So we add design and top down control to get where we want to go. — Kevin Kelly
- This rich context, attached to many Wikipedia articles, is known as a “talk page.” The talk page is where the writers for an article hash out their differences, plan future edits, and come to agreement about tricky rhetorical points. This kind of debate doubtless happens in the New York Times and Britannica as well, but behind the scenes. Wikipedia readers can see it all, and understand how choices were made. — Fernanda Viegas & Matthew Wattenberg
- My response is quite simple: this alleged “core belief” is not one which is held by me, nor as far as I know, by any important or prominent Wikipedians. Nor do we have any particular faith in collectives or collectivism as a mode of writing. Authoring at Wikipedia, as everywhere, is done by individuals exercising the judgment of their own minds. — Jimmy Wales
- The debate does demonstrate how much we need to update our media literacy in a digital, distributed era. Our internal BS meters already work, but they’ve fallen into a low and sad level of use in the Big Media world. Many people tend to believe what they read. Others tend to disbelieve everything. Too few apply appropriate skepticism and do the additional work that true media literacy requires. — Dan Gillmor
- …collective action is not the same as collectivism. Commons-based peer production in Wikipedia, open source software, and prediction markets is collective action, not collectivism. Collective action involves freely chosen self-election (which is almost always coincident with self-interest) and distributed coordination; collectivism involves coercion and centralized control; treating the Internet as a commons doesn’t mean it is… — Howard Rheingold
And best of all, I felt, was the response by Esther Dyson. It seemed to me to be an argument slightly in disagreement with Lanier, and one where I can see both his points and hers, and agree with some of each.
I think the real argument is between voting or aggregating — where anonymous people raise or lower things in esteem by the weight of sheer numbers — vs. arguments by recognizable, individuals that answer the arguments of other individuals… Arguments may win or lose and a consensus argument or belief may arise, but it is structured, and emerges more finely shaped than what mere voting or “collectivism” would have produced.
That’s why we have representative government — in theory at least. Certain people — designated “experts” — sit together to design something that is supposed to be coherent. (That’s the vision, anyway.) You can easily vote both for lower taxes and more services, but you can’t design a consistent system that will deliver that.
So, to get the best results, we have people sharpening their ideas against one another rather than simply editing someone’s contribution and replacing it with another. We also have a world where the contributors have identities (real or fake, but consistent and persistent) and are accountable for their words. — Esther Dyson
I think just reading Lanier’s essay is a way to get an intelligent, but one-sided opinion. There are definitely multiple views on these issues, and the other writers here offer those quite eloquently. If I had just read the first part, I probably wouldn’t have fully understood the discussion.
It seems that the problem with collectives OR collectivism can be quite real, but that perhaps Lanier did a disservice to his argument by not fully recognizing the extent of his examples. I agree with his ultimate conclusion, but I also agree with the other writers here who suggest that Wikipedia isn’t such a murky collectivism as Lanier perceives it to be, and that it and similar sites that offer “collective action” are more coordinated and intelligently designed than they might appear.
For my Intro to EMAC class we are required to work through lessons on Codecademy.com and post screenshots when we complete certain courses.
Over the past two days I worked through the HTML & CSS course. It was interesting to get a beginner’s view of HTML, as I have been working with it for about three years. I am mostly self-taught, so while I had already figured out most of the basics in this section on my own, other parts were things I had never picked up on, or had not fully grasped without formal instruction.
However, I had never tried CSS at all, so that was completely new. I found it a bit confusing, mostly because once you have been introduced to a particular code and gone over it a couple of times, the site stops reminding you how to write it. At the beginning it was no big deal, but by the end I found myself wishing I had a glossary to reference different bits of code. Maybe I should have been taking notes? P:
I also had trouble with the website towards the end. Codecademy would tell me that I should see certain code, but it did not display. And then it told me that certain changes to the code would produce certain results, but the results were not entirely accurate. Some of this may have had to do with my computer settings, but I was unable to fix them. I was still able to complete all the lessons and finish the course. I definitely recommend the site for beginners who have interest in coding!
Here is my screenshot!
So for any readers who do not know, I am going to start using this blog for one of my grad classes at UTD. The posts may not be as “exciting” as they have been before (if you would call them that), but they should still be interesting, as I think we will be covering some pretty interesting topics.
The class is called Intro to Emerging Media and Communication, and it is the core class of my master’s program by the same name. So from the looks of it we will be covering a very broad range of topics relating to new media and new communication, with not quite so much depth. We are expected to write several blogs throughout the semester, relating back to the reading. Here then, is my first such post!
Of the three readings we were assigned for this past week –one from Socrates on the nature of rhetoric, one about Victorian England’s love affair with the telegraph, and the final reading detailing one man’s most fervent desires for science to turn from producing the war technology of WWII to producing the technology which would become today’s modern computers and the internet—I found the last reading to be the most thought-provoking and quite exciting. So I believe I will share my thoughts on this reading, and of course see if they provoke any thoughts from you!
Anyone who has not read “As We May Think,” by Vannevar Bush should definitely look into it. The article was published in The Atlantic in July of 1945 and is not too terribly long. Click here for a public link to the article.
From the intro by the editor:
As Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Dr. Vannevar Bush has coordinated the activities of some six thousand leading American scientists in the application of science to warfare. In this significant article he holds up an incentive for scientists when the fighting has ceased. He urges that men of science should then turn to the massive task of making more accessible our bewildering store of knowledge. For years inventions have extended man’s physical powers rather than the powers of his mind. …Now, says Dr. Bush, instruments are at hand which, if properly developed, will give man access to and command over the inherited knowledge of the ages. The perfection of these pacific instruments should be the first objective of our scientists as they emerge from their war work…
I admit when I first started reading this article, I did not immediately realize the time period during which this was written. I neglected to look for the date it was published, and it almost seemed—at first—that it could be fairly recent. I quickly realized it was definitely not recent and checked the date, and then it began to make more sense!
Even though it turned out that this was a much older article, one thing occurred to me from my mistake: Though since the time of the writing we have much more efficient technologies that do almost exactly what Bush wanted them to do, we still have such a wealth of information that we can never fully consume. Just the amount of reading required for one typical graduate level course is enough to make any student relate strongly to this quote from the article: “The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers—conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear.”
Here is another quote which I felt a direct connection to: “The summation of human experience is being expanded at a prodigious rate, and the means we use for threading through the consequent maze to the momentarily important item is the same as was used in the days of square-rigged ships.” When I read this I was still under the illusion that this was a modern article, and I was prepared to agree with the author that this was a modern problem! Just goes to show that there is such a huge amount of information and knowledge available that even with today’s technology it can still be overwhelming. And the idea that we could have yet even better technology for consuming and learning is still a driving force in the development of new innovations.
“The world has arrived at an age of cheap complex devices of great reliability; and something is bound to come of it.” When you think of this quote compared to today’s abundance of smart phones, tablets, and digital readers, it may seem like the biggest understatement of the entire article, lol!
Throughout the article, the author gives many suggestions and possibilities for technological advancement, sticking constantly to what was available during that era and applying it in new ways and new combinations to predict incredibly accurate versions of what we do in fact have available today.
Some of the modern-day equivalent technologies that I recognized from his proposals include advanced cameras (though he did not quite make the connection that cameras, specifically, would be almost entirely digital), fax machines, further developments in television, microfilms plus projection—a technology that is now almost outdated!—, talk-to-text technology, voice recording and reproducing, even chatspeak!, the common calculator, personal desktop computers, search engines, tagging, the ability to name files, link them, and to share them between users and computers, and probably a few more that I might have missed.
One quote, “…For this reason there still come more machines to handle advanced mathematics for the scientist. Some of them will be sufficiently bizarre to suit the most fastidious connoisseur of the present artifacts of civilization,” even made me think—bizarre machines for scientists? What about all the bizarre sites and apps there are for regular, everyday weirdos who want to keep track of “the present artifacts of civilization”? Like Twitter maybe? Lol…
In one part of the article, Bush gives some incredibly detailed predictions for the modern desktop computer, and even many aspects of the internet. Yet what he envisioned was purely for the academic, scientific, and research communities. This man had some brilliant ideas, but even he did not quite grasp the magnitude to which such possibilities would grow… The internet today is a vast form of what he describes, with infinitely more options and possibilities than he posited. And it can and certainly will grow even further still!
“…not to prophesy but merely to suggest, for prophecy based on extension of the known has substance, while prophecy founded on the unknown is only a doubly involved guess.” I felt this was a really great explanation for the way Bush went about writing this article, and an excellent demonstration of how the technologies of that time could be projected to very nearly prophesy the technologies that have been developed since then. And he was so nearly dead on!!
But Bush didn’t stop there. He even talks about bone conduction and other forms of direct signal transmitting and reading. “In the outside world, all forms of intelligence whether of sound or sight, have been reduced to the form of varying currents in an electric circuit in order that they may be transmitted. Inside the human frame exactly the same sort of process occurs. Must we always transform to mechanical movements in order to
proceed from one electrical phenomenon to another? It is a suggestive thought, but it hardly warrants prediction without losing touch with reality and immediateness.” I found these ideas incredibly advanced considering the time period in which they were written. They are still quite thought-provoking even today!
Overall, Bush’s aspirations may have been lofty and somewhat idealistic, but he was realistic in that if mankind had not come up with such an invention or system for storing and using our vast knowledge, we may very well have spiraled downward and lost the hope of progress. It is still a dark possibility, and there are yet many people in countries where internet access is not only unlikely but also not a prominent need above food and clean water—but surely the invention of computers and the internet has brought brighter days to many people who would most likely have trudged on in the dark without the ability to rise above and connect with world-wide knowledge, now accessible to millions.
I feel somewhat idealistic myself, just writing that last bit, but I guess I can acknowledge that I am a somewhat idealistic person… Anyway, those are my opinonions on the subject—now what are yours? (:
Love that song, I sympathize so deeply. It’s from Beauty and the Beast, if you’re wondering.
Anyway, today I read this: New US-Russian Crew Docks at Space Station After Super-Fast Flight
Even as the Space Shuttle program closes up shop to make way for a new phase of spaceflight, space science continues to advance by leaps and bounds. I still hold onto a childhood dream that one day I might go into space.
But even more than that, when I read this article, one quote in particular struck a chord with me.
“We as human beings, we like to explore; there’s frontiers of knowledge, there’s frontiers of physical space that I think we all just feel compelled to go to and each one of those different types of environments, be it space or high mountains or the water, all bring different aspects to what we can learn, what can we can bring back to better life in either a small spectrum of our lives or in the broader sense of it,” Cassidy said during an interview with NASA. “That’s how I think the space program is.”
I love that feel. That feel you get… when someone else puts into words just exactly how you feel.
My need to explore is undeniable, though I am more often than not forced to stifle it so I can go about my everyday work and recovery cycle that is necessary to pay bills that are necessary to live my lifestyle, etc, etc, blah blah blah.
But I go out when I can, and I hope that will become more and more often as I achieve greater means to that end.
How can anyone not desire to explore new places, new worlds? To learn and discover all that life has to offer? It is a basic instinct that should be cultivated and exercised as often as possible.
Go out, my friends, and find adventure!
Even famous art gets do-overs, right?
Back in the day, painters had their subjects sit for tedious hours while they painted them from life. Portraits took many sessions, resulting in countless wasted hours of delirium for the subject. In more recent decades, painters have had the luxury of taking a photograph of a subject and working from the still image. It is a very common technique these days and is hardly worth mentioning.
Except now they’re doing it backwards…
Booooooom.com asked photographers to turn famous works of art into uncanny photographs as part of their contest, the Remake / Photo Project. Many famous paintings, photographs, film stills, and even sculptures were remade in exquisite detail.
One of my favorites was the “Pot Pourri” remake by Tania Brassesco and Lazlo Passi Norberto. They matched details so well, even down to the position of the woman’s hand. It makes for a very lovely photograph.
I absolutely loved “The Ship” remake by Justin Nunnink. The way the remake combines the crafted ship sails with the figure and the backdrop painting is just wonderful. I even get the same sense of silence and quiet from the photograph as I do from the painting.
And the “Bedroom in Arles” remake by Joshua Louis Simon is just stunning. Even if it weren’t for a contest, this is a work of art that needed to be made. I hope it is kept as an installation somewhere because it looks like something that ought to be experienced, more than just viewed in a photograph.
Check out the other entries on the site. Which one is your favorite? What’s a famous work of art you’d like to see remade? After all, every work of art is an imitation of some other piece of art, whether it exists in a photograph, on a canvas, or alive in nature. There are no real originals, but new ideas and twists on old ones make new art novel and extraordinary! (: