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Facebook Chronicles: Approach to the Inmost Cave

by Barb Cashman on June 8, 2012

Don’t these titles seem to be getting more dramatic sounding as we proceed through the Hero’s Journey? Indeed – in this portion of our journey (yes, remember it’s “how a solo attorney can venture into the wide world of Facebook, overcome fear and obstacles, gain useful insight and skills and emerge triumphant” – just in case you forgot how grandiose-sounding is the whole premise for the series  …) we find ourselves in “the cave” to face a second threshold.  Is this sounding too much like Hollywood-style screenwriting – or perhaps not enough? It’s because my point of reference is Christopher Vogler’s book, “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.”

What we are talking about here is preparing ourselves for the major challenge in the “special world,” a.k.a. Facebook.  Thank goodness we have Howard Rheingold’s “Net Smart” to assist us in the review of our maps, attack planning, and reconnaissance so that when the time comes to gulp! face the greatest fear during the Ordeal [the next installment], we will have done our best to be prepared.

In Rheingold’s fourth chapter, entitled “Social-Digital Know-How: The Arts and Sciences of Collective Intelligence,” he starts with the fairly earth-shaking premise that the world wide Web is “the primary example of network-enabled collaboration on a scale that was never before possible.” He starts with a reference to Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web. (BTW, Berners-Lee has a TED talk, posted March 2009, about the “next Web” and you can watch it here).

What he essentially conveys is that the spirit of all these people getting together is still fresh, exciting, and ongoing.  It may seem overwhelming to many of us, especially when he talks about the use of data, liberating the inherent power of the data that he says is just getting started.  There is still huge unlocked potential – the challenge is in the format and in the availability of the data.  Data is relationships, not just facts – as in biographical facts, lots of different kinds of diverse data.

Okay, this is the cave, and it’s … dark, but what we are really talking about is change – I mean CHANGE.  Mass collaboration based on collective intelligence.  Rheingold identifies four basic “understandings” of collaborative online skills:

  1. Attention is a fundamental building block of social cooperation.
  2. Humans are supercooperators because we’ve learned how to devise new tools and methods to overcome social dilemmas.
  3. Innovative social institutions continually coevolve together with communication media.
  4. Reciprocating cooperation, punishing noncooperators, and signaling a willingness to cooperate are useful for both individuals and their groups.

Wikipedia is a great example that Rheingold uses to illustrate peoples’ motivation to work in collaboration and cites to several other examples  such as World of Warcraft, which has been dubbed “the new golf,” and useful and creative examples of collective intelligence based on the premise that nobody knows everything and everybody knows something.  Hmm …  this is starting to sound like a couple listservs I know.  What we are talking about here is evolution, and yes change can be scary for many people –but this is what it looks like so far: Exercising the skill of fostering collective intelligence by creating a synergy between personal knowledge management and collective knowledge management. The factors of a group’s collective IQ are taking turns in conversations, being sensitive to social cues, and the number of women on each team (here’s Harry Belafonte if you don’t believe me); crowdsourcing (breaking problems or jobs into small pieces and then asking for help),  like distributed computation for SETI@home; and for fun (a.k.a. “playbor”) and profit, and finally – drum roll, please: a new economic behavior known as “social production,” which means that economics may no longer be “the dismal science” in a networked information economy.  Check out this wiki for Yale law professor Yochai Benkler’s book “The Wealth of Networks.”

The bottom line here is that our economic “story” is changing as a result of our online collaborative powers.  Remember the Stone Soup children’s story?  Something along those lines to facilitate collaborative consumption.  The technology for how we do this is continually evolving – the question is how will YOU participate in this?

So what are you afraid of here?  Yes, I might be thinking of the Harry Potter boggart creature that assumes the form of the thing the person is most afraid of.  So, in classic lawyer style we could say, “it depends.”

The cave – and I’m not talking about a literal cave (unless you are in a WiFi cave) here, but a figurative one – maybe it’s an attitude like, what is all this information for, anyway?  Are you feeling paranoid? Are you feeling liberated? It depends. Most of the lawyers I’ve heard from are very skeptical.

Are we actively participating in the data collecting efforts or are we being manipulated somehow?  For an entertaining and eye-opening look at the power of health data, take a look at this myth-busting TED talk about the mind-liberating effect of visually stimulating data, and how in the right hands it can explode pre-conceived ideas.

Okay, and while I’m straying a bit from our mentor/guide, take a look at this recent Scientific American blog post about our (human) brain’s formula for social networks predating Facebook by hundreds of millions of years.  So, the infrastructure is there, on the interior and exterior, but how do we approach it in a way that works for us individually?

This leads me right back to Rheingold nicely – “humans are human because we use communication to organize collective action.  Social media can amplify collective action.” How will you evolve along the taxonomy of online collective work? Will you move beyond networking to plan coordination and then proceed toward cooperation until you finally arrive at collaboration?  So, do tell dear readers – how you really feel about collaborating?

Read more about Barb’s Facebook Chronicles here.

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