Well put, David Brin!

David Brin, answering Edge’s big question: What have you changed your mind about?, says, somewhat off-topic:

Let me close with a final surprise, that’s more of a disappointment.

I certainly expected that, by now, online tools for conversation, work, collaboration and discourse would have become far more useful, sophisticated and effective than they currently are. I know I’m pretty well alone here, but all the glossy avatars and video and social network sites conceal a trivialization of interaction, dragging it down to the level of single-sentence grunts, flirtation and ROTFL [rolling on the floor laughing], at a time when we need discussion and argument to be more effective than ever.

Indeed, most adults won’t have anything to do with all the wondrous gloss that fills the synchronous online world, preferring by far the older, asynchronous modes, like web sites, email, downloads etc.

This isn’t grouchy old-fart testiness toward the new. In fact, there are dozens of discourse-elevating tools just waiting out there to be born. Everybody is still banging rocks together, while bragging about the colors. Meanwhile, half of the tricks that human beings normally use, in real world conversation, have never even been tried online.

3 thoughts on “Well put, David Brin!”

  1. Cheers Jon,

    I too am amazed at how little the web is used for “serious” matter. Leisure is important and being able to share pictures and info with a group of friends definitely is useful. A little further along the usefulness axis, social apps like Facebook can even be used for people to organize, like artists doing their self-marketing and inviting their “friends” to shows they produce themselves. Why don’t people jump on things like OpenPlans to organize themselves is a mystery for which I’ll provide a hypothesis.

    Out of the 3-4 projects I’ve started on OpenPlans, I had 1 edit from a user other than me. One of my close friends, who I invited to add his thoughts to the wiki, told me he feared interfering with my work, as though the content of the wiki page was mine and nobody else’s. People are so used to a passive Web that they won’t readily jump in and edit the work of others, even when the platform they are using allows just that. The hypothesis I’m putting forth to explain that is that the notion of property is entrenched to such levels that people are inhibited to participate for fear of “trepassing” some “intellectual property” [I hear RMS yelling :-)].

    First nations in our country had (still have ?) the notion that the land was not owned by anyone. One can roam the land and harvest its richness but the underlying tenant the land does not belong to anyone means that one must think of others when one uses the land, which pretty much summarizes the modern definition of sustainable development. I wish we could free ourselves from the inhibitions that plague us and that the internet becomes the locus of true citizenship in action, rather than (or in complement to) the leisure/commercial mart it currently amounts to. I wish citizens could ventilate issues through blogs/forums and then follow on to action through wikis and the other tools of collaboration. I wish there were a true participative democracy infrastructure as there are roads and other infrastructure that belong to all.

    Goes back dreaming 🙂


  2. David Brin here… (we share a blog visiter, who asked me to come.)

    Great site, BTW.

    For those who are interested in the topic of how much better online discourse could be, I gave a Google Tech Talk: http://tinyurl.com/yy7yxm that’s WAY over the top (they must have slipped something into the fruit juice!) But it covers a whole lot of ground.

    My own inventions to improve discourse are at http://www.holocenechat.com

    Best of luck to us all and to the Enlightenment.

    With cordial regards,

    David Brin

  3. Thanks Jon for making this point more visible. Some Finnish folks are pursuing some interesting tools to enable ‘knowledge building’ conversations in classrooms. Knowledge-building sees the community as the unit of knowledge, not the individual. Much better explained here if you’re interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_building

    Also cool is that this group from Finland is using Zope/Plone as their platform. Their product, unlike a fine Canadian Knowledge Building product, is dedicated to an open source philosophy. They are currently working on the next version, their current, FLE3, is described here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fle3 I’ve used FLE3 a bit in my middle school classroom and it is a great start in the right direction, I think.

    I wonder if having more substantive, richer conversations won’t require us to learn ‘graphic-organizers’ to provide structures for these discussions e.g. concept mapping though not necessarily via bubbles. This will probably require breaking out of the linear chat mode and the pseudo-2D threaded-discussion mode. Does anyone know of other, rich, discussion tools?

    Also, thanks Yves for making explicit the difficulty people/I have with editing wikis. I’ve not pinpointed it, why do many of us have an aversion to this? And, Thanks David, I’ll check out your invention and the group… I’m interested.

    Keep on,

Comments are closed.