[Paleopsych] BBC: Co-opting the creative revolution

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Tue Jul 19 19:29:53 UTC 2005

Co-opting the creative revolution. Towards an internet ruled government

Digital technology is providing people with the tools to produce and
share content like never before, and it is set to throw the
relationship between them and institutions into turmoil, say experts.

"I am predicting 50 years of chaos," says leading digital thinker
Clay Shirky. "Loosely organised groups will be increasingly given

"Institutions will come under increasing degrees of pressures and the
more rigid they are, the more pressures they will come under.

"It is going to be a mass re-adjustment," he says, addressing
delegates at the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design)
conference in Oxford, UK.

TED brings together experts in design, technology, and entertainment
to share their ideas about the future.

In our hands

At a time when companies are grappling with how to make cool new
stuff, it is the rising tide of creative collaborators working
through the channel and tools of the net that is showing the way ahead.

This is not a new trend, explains Tony Blair's favourite political
analyst and author Charles Leadbeater.

The mountain bike was created out of the frustrations of a few
northern Californians who were dissatisfied with ordinary bikes and

They took what they wanted from those to create something entirely

This was 10 to 15 years before the big companies saw the commercial
value, explains Mr Leadbeater. About 65% of bike sales in the US are
mountain bikes now.

"It is when the net combines with these passionate consumers that you
get the explosion of creative collaboration," says Mr Leadbeater.

"Out of that you get the need for better organisations; how do you
organise yourself without organisation?"

It is indeed a challenge getting a very large, distributed group of
people to work in an effective, valuable, collaborative way, says Mr

But efforts such as the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia show that
people power can and does work.

It is not just a community that runs wild. There are volunteers and
voting systems in place to ensure accuracy and decency.

Its founder, Jimmy Wales, is the "monarch" who will take tough
decisions if need be, though this has not happened very often.

Power of the masses

Just because something is created by anyone with a net connection and
some sort of know-how, existing outside of formal, does not make it
any less accurate or useful, say the digital thinkers of our times.

"For the first time since the industrial revolution, the most
important means and components of core economies are in the hands of
the population at large," explains Yale Law professor Yochai Benkler.

Computation, in other words, is in the hands of the entire
population. And those computing tools are getting easier to use, more
approachable, as well as more powerful.

If you are a games community with a million players, you only need
one percent to be co-developers. Imagine that working in education, or
the NHS
Charles Leadbeater

Blogging, services, tag-based applications to help people find
content, peer-to-peer ways of distributing content, grid computing,
open source software, are all examples of how this is happening online

Ordinary people can become photographers whose images are used all
over the world, for instance.

Tagging them with keywords helps others find and classify them usefully.

This act of tagging does not require swathes of trained librarians.

What these power tools enable is the ability for people with small
ideas to make them real, share them, and let them grow.

But this philosophy has many big companies jittery. There are
obstacles to overcome.

This is what creativity is about, but Mr Leadbeater argues there is a
further challenge in thinking about how creativity comes about.

It is not about creative people hired by big companies wearing
colourful baseball caps, thinking up whacky ideas in an office with
grass for a carpet, he says.

Professor Benkler describes this as a new "transactional framework"
if you speak economics.

In other words, it is essentially the first system of social
production, sharing and exchange for a long time that is actually
making companies sit up and listen, because they have to.

Money and communities

Big companies are now seeing the economic opportunity of this kind of
open, collaborative production, by the people, making social
production a fact and not just a fad.

Mr Leadbeater's job is to work out how these new ways of working can
be embraced as part of public policy, where people get something back
- not necessarily in monetary form - for what they contribute.

"It is about companies built on communities; the company provides the
community with the tools it needs," he says.

"If you are a games community with a million players, you only need
one percent to be co-developers. Imagine that working in education,
or the NHS.

"Some sort of middle ground is going to be the most productive."

As for the next 50 years, it is up to the generation which has no
idea what a real library looks like inside to decide how it will work
out, says Mr Shirky.

Our entire approach to patents and intellectual property and
innovation so far has been based on the idea that the inventor tells
us what something is for, says Mr Leadbeater.

That has to change; patents and copyright have to move with that and
be about orchestrating that creativity rather than smothering it.

To Mr Shirky, there is one thing we can do now: "Since we can see it
is coming, we might as well get good at it."

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