The Bay Area Collective Intelligence Meetup Group Message Board › Amplifying the Average vs. Innovation

Amplifying the Average vs. Innovation

A former member
Post #: 39
In the early days of computing, those involved were pioneers, innovators, original thinkers, the supper passionate, driven by curiosity and the purity of adventure. These were a strong people. Proud. And though it sounds precious to say so, the early computing pioneers were not unlike other gritty pioneers in that they enjoyed being out well beyond the known, striding forward where there was no trail, no strength in numbers, no peer support, no mentors, no accepted pattern.

Now? Well now that computers have become ubiquitous, now that everyone has one, uses one like they use a knife and fork, the pioneers have long since been replaced by Plumber Joe, by the middle of the bell curve, by everyman and everywoman and their kids.

I can't quite believe it has taken me this long to recognize the importance of this simple fact… and its implications. In particular, the generalization of computing into the lives of the general population has resulted in a dramatic shift in the demand landscape that informs what computing becomes. The market for computing is its users. The user today is a whole different animal than the user/inventor that defined its early history.

I remember being in grade school. In every class I attended there were a few kids (one or two) who were driven by a passion to know, to understand, to create. The rest, well the rest excelled at a completely different set of skills, getting through the day, unnoticed, blending in. The two groups couldn't be more different. The inquisitive few were internally driven. The rest were driven by the outward demands of success as defined by the curve. The inventive minds competed against their own ability to invent. The rest competed amongst themselves over the coveted 60 percentile that would define passing the class.

The computing market is now define by that larger part of human population that defines success as climbing (which ever way possible) on top of at least 60 percent of the population (of other social climbers). These were the kids who spent most of their time comparing themselves to the kids next to them. Looking over their shoulder at the other kid's test answers. Studying together so that they knew the base line before they got to the actual test.

And this center of the bell curve, this is the market for computing. Which makes sense. Diffusion and all. But the whole history of modern computing is so short, just 40 years now, that it is surprising and a bit of a shock. How could an industry just a generation old have transited already from go-it-alone pioneer to BigMac average?

The implications are huge. In particular, this insight brings social media into sharp iconic focus. Social media is the computing name for competing without doing. It is to computing what cheating off of your neighbor's test was to going to school. As a person who likes to think of himself as a pioneer, I have reacted in horror and disbelief and frustration to what looked to me like 15 years of computer industry regression.

Where software and competitor tools used to represent the creative needs of the early computing pioneers, they have to my mind, digressed into social media dribble, to twitter and 13 seconds, and myface and spacebook and numerology based pizza ordering apps.

But know I understand, now it all makes sense. I am no less depressed by the dumbing down of computing, but I understand.

Computing's new "social media" face might disturb my pioneer sensibilities, but the maturation of computing is simply the satisfaction of common demand. If the average human feels more comfortable doing exactly what everyone else is doing, seeking the center, would much rather copy the answers off of their desk mate's test than understand the subject matter being tested, well then it only makes sense that, we, the royal "we", would use this computing tool as we we use every other tool, to help us find the center and stay there.

And it's not just the consumers of computers, software, and services that are acting more and more like a school of fish and less and less like pioneers, this schooling mentality has crept into and now dominates computing as an industry. As any MBA knows, the success of an industry is most sensitive to its ability to understand and predict the demand of its market. Who better to know the center of the bell curve, the average Joe and Jane, than that same Joe and Jane? Joe and Jane Average now dominate the rank and file workers that make up the computer industry. This means administration, it also means sales and marketing, both of which make sense. Less intuitive, is but equally understandable, Joe and Jane Average have taken over the research and design and long range planning arms of the computer industry. Even where it isn't the actual Joe and Jane, it is people who do a kick-ass job of channeling them.

I just found the on-line syllabus for Patty Maies's computer design class at MIT's Media Lab. Under the resources tab I found a list of links to speeches and demos of early computing pioneers explaining and showing off their work or the work of others of the time. Mind blowing. The future these folks from Stanford Research, from the Rand Corporation, from Xerox PARC, and other institutions, well, it is sooooo much more forward looking than what has become of computing. At least from my perspective. I have written quite a few essays lambasting what I see as a general loosing of the computing industry's collective way. Ten years ago, I gave a talk at Apple titled: "Apple Got Everything It Had For Free, And Then Sat On Its Ass While The Rest Of The World Caught Up".

From a marketing perspective I couldn't have been more wrong. I am not the market! I wish I was, but I am decidedly not the market. I am an outlier, a small dot on a long tail, I am pluto or maybe even just some wayward ice and dust comet to the big ordinary planets that trace out wonderfully circular orbits around the sun. In that talk I proudly proclaimed that Apple's "Think Different" campaign was why they had just 2 or 3 percent of the computer market. I correctly explained that the Bill Gates genius lie not in his profound insight, but in his ability to understand the motivations that drive the average person… namely to never be caught doing something that someone else could question. That means acting the same as everyone else. That means knowing how everyone else is acting. That means social media!

[continued]
A former member
Post #: 40
Amplifying the Average… [continued]

Nobody (other than wacky outliers like me) want to be compared to iconoclasts like Einstein or Picasso or Gandhi or Gershwin. Nobody wants to "think different". Most people wouldn't be caught dead risking that type of public audacity. You have got to be pretty confident that you have an answer to the dreaded question "Why are you doing that?" to ever DO THAT (individually creative thing) in the first place.

Pioneers know exactly why they do what they do. They are driven by knowing more than others and by the excitement of being somewhere others haven't been… by being very much outside of the ball of fish that others seek as protection.

But if you want to sell a billion computers instead of just a few thousand, then you want to pay attention to the fish in all of us and not to the smiling and sock-less Einstein's on a bike.

But the larger and longer implications of mass market sensitivity are profound. While it is entirely true that paying attention to the center of the cultural bell curve will allow any industry to exploit more of the total available consumption potential, such behavior does not necessarily produce the paradigm jumping disruption upon which long term progress depends. If your Twinkies are selling really well, you might not notice that your customers are all reaching morbid levels of obesity and malnutrition or that the world is crumbling around the climate changing policies upon which your fast food empire is based.

The satisfaction of human center-of-the-fish-ball urges is not necessarily the best recipe for success if success means more than short term market domination. In the long run, potential and satisfaction are decidedly not the same thing; they are, as a matter of fact, very often mutually antagonistic. Rome comes to mind. What comes to mind when I mention the phrase "dot com" or "mortgage backed securities" or "energy deregulation".

The very motivation that has driven computing and communication deeply into the largest consumer base the earth has ever witnessed might very well work against the types of motivations that might be able to rescue us from the inward facing spiral of self criticality that amorous alone can yield. I am increasingly worried that the computer's vast potential to satisfy our most base attributes, to amplify unhindered urges that the natural environment has never allowed us to satisfy, has already so distracted us with our own egos and desires that we might not be able to pull our heads out before we get sucked completely up our own John Malcavich-ian portals of endless self-facination.

At any rate, it would behoove the computer and communications industry to place a side bet or two. Some of us are not so distracted by the shininess of these things or to how they shine up our own navels, to see futures for computing that are more expansive than the perfect amplification of the self.

Randall Reetz
Tom L.
user 5920872
Sunnyvale, CA
Post #: 85
Well now that computers have become ubiquitous, now that everyone has one, uses one like they use a knife and fork, the pioneers have long since been replaced by Plumber Joe, by the middle of the bell curve, by everyman and everywoman and their kids.
See the just released report by the UN that one billion are undernourished and we can expect that to grow to fully half of humanity by 2050 with current trends? I understand that maybe half of us Homo saps. have some kind of computer access currently but they are hardly ubiquitous unless you limit the scope of what you see to some specific portion of humanity. I don't find it all too practical to go about making a broad generalization that is not born out by observation.

I remember being in grade school. In every class I attended there were a few kids (one or two) who were driven by a passion to know, to understand, to create. The rest, well the rest excelled at a completely different set of skills, getting through the day, unnoticed, blending in. The two groups couldn't be more different. The inquisitive few were internally driven. The rest were driven by the outward demands of success as defined by the curve. The inventive minds competed against their own ability to invent. The rest competed amongst themselves over the coveted 60 percentile that would define passing the class.
I didn't pass my high school American Government class and I couldn't stomach a night class I attempted for the same. It was required for graduation. I'm a high school drop out. Guess I am one that does not fit your description. I think I have been internally driven to learn but when faced with something I found more propaganda than knowledge, I preferred not being a part of that "coveted 60 percentile." I think I coveted being of integrity more than passing.

BigMac average
LOL

sharp iconic focus
Seems to me you have been overly sharp, missing the fuzzy nature of some aspects. Doubt if this sharpness of yours can cut butter.

Where software and competitor tools used to represent the creative needs of the early computing pioneers, they have to my mind, digressed into social media dribble, to twitter and 13 seconds, and myface and spacebook and numerology based pizza ordering apps.
Twitter has been found to be quite crass, promoting insensitivity to people's plights, encouraging an immoral stance. I guess you were just being funny with "myface and spacebook" but I have seen research that found the more time students spent on Facebook, the worse their grades. I don't use them myself and maybe share the same sentiment as yourself but the words, kind of like that "supper passionate" in your first sentence, it is hard to see if you are meaning to come off as humorous or just not all that careful nor desirous to communicate.

But know I understand, now it all makes sense. I am no less depressed by the dumbing down of computing, but I understand.
I don't take all that kindly to be ordered about. Guess it could be just another typo and you meant "now" rather than "know" but still doesn't make much sense that way either. I appreciate suggestions, shared observations, but being ordered to accept one person's self appraisal as being in the know especially when considering such a broad and wide subject, that is a hard one for me to swallow.

I am an outlier, a small dot on a long tail, I am pluto or maybe even just some wayward ice and dust comet to the big ordinary planets that trace out wonderfully circular orbits around the sun.
I like the prose attempt but think "elliptical" would be better. My own research suggests that our planetary system has far from "ordinary planets" and that is part of the reason why we are here.

The very motivation that has driven computing and communication deeply into the largest consumer base the earth has ever witnessed might very well work against the types of motivations that might be able to rescue us from the inward facing spiral of self criticality that amorous alone can yield.
Amorous is a noun?

I am increasingly worried that the computer's vast potential to satisfy our most base attributes, to amplify unhindered urges that the natural environment has never allowed us to satisfy, has already so distracted us with our own egos and desires that we might not be able to pull our heads out before we get sucked completely up our own John Malcavich-ian portals of endless self-facination.
Speaking for yourself, yes, seems to be quite apparent but maybe you misspelled Malcovich? You definitely misspelled "fascination."

Some of us are not so distracted by the shininess of these things or to how they shine up our own navels, to see futures for computing that are more expansive than the perfect amplification of the self.
Quite difficult to understand what you mean here but you have referred to "navels" before in your missives as the contemplation item of the impractical romanticist, if I understand your attempts to ridicule. I truly expected to see "butts" rather than navels. I do think we have a different definition of "self." In my eyes it is all we can seek to amplify and it overlaps and is shared with other selves. Amplifying a phenomenon seems to imply inductance, a spatial coexisting alignment for referential strengthening of some interactive component, to mix the physics with the biological or psychological so to speak. I don't think the notion of the self as separate and aloof from all else holds much credibility. I guess though, with a definition of it being separate, it makes sense to toot one's own horn as you seem to want to do. Gee, my taking the time to put this together, maybe I'm doing the same. Will I hit "Submit?"
A former member
Post #: 41
Well, you completely missed my point. I have a feeling this was your motivation. Though in doing so, you perfectly exemplify that which I was attempting to explain… that it is so much easier for people to find the center of human behavior and stay there at all costs (including the use of ridicule towards those motivated by bigger questions than "Am I as good at acting like you as you are at acting like me?").

Typos typos typos. I can not spell. Period. I use a spell checker. But it presents word hinting as I type. If I get ahead of my typing (cause I am thinking about content and think that content matters), I am often unaware of these miss-mappings as they happen.

But your real point is ridicule, control through shame. It has worked for centuries. It's use is an accurate filter… separating those who risk truth from those who avoid insights that might require them to shift to a new center, or fear the contrast between original thought and their own center-seeking will be made obvious if it happens near enough to them.

I use the words "myface" and "spacebook" to make fun of "social networking" which is a "lifestyle" term that spins meaning way better than the more honest labels "social mirror" or "social control" and was the natural bridge that bound on-line behavior to the same social control practices of the brick and mortar world it augments.

But my point, my point, MY POINT… is that computing (for market exploitation reasons) has now become part and parcel with the social control mechanisms that so define human normative behavior, which to my thinking places "collective intelligence" exactly in opposition to the types of original and non-rhetorically bound thought from which positive change and complexity arise.

How about you comment on the substance of my post. That might be constructive.

P.S. When I find beautiful prose, I know I am reading about ideas that are as old as the hills. Writing original deep insights is a difficult process. Ever listen in to the fractured tortured language expressed by people in a science lab? If you are really and truly doing something of importance, salience supersedes aesthetics every time. Someday, maybe fifty years after the work is done, somebody will be able to write a beautiful account of the chaos that went down. In real time, that is never the case. Yet another argument against the romanticism suggested by "collective intelligence". Regan called it "common sense". Are you really wanting to be in agreement with Ronald Regan?

Randall Reetz
A former member
Post #: 42
The "collective intelligence" contemporary to the Write Brothers was that flight was impossible or too difficult for humans. During the lives of Gallaleo and Copernicus, the collective was sure that the Earth was in the center of the cosmos. 60% of americans think evolution is evil. 51% elected George Bush two times and his father before him. Rush Limbaugh is wildly popular. People think Bill Gates is a genius because he is rich. Ever ask a person to describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics or General Relativity or Quantum Indeterminacy or Information Theory or the meaning of Godel and Turring's work on limits, or the foundations of mathematics or logic? From which "collective" are you expecting this profound emergence of "intelligence"?

I am a huge fan of democracy and creating policy that insures level access to opportunity for all people. But the blind logical jump from populist fair society to the idea that large collections of minds think better than do individual minds I find romantic, illogical, and both empirically, and theoretically unfounded.

Nobody in this group has bothered to show me otherwise. When I ask for proof or at least logical explanation, I am sent off to look at the behavior of ants. I don't think E.O Wilson would agree with the blind premise that seems to fuel the most rabid "Collective Intelligence" proponents.

I have never seen a powerful insight come from a group. But I have seen lots (all) powerful insights come from individuals. The collective more often than not, actually slows down the dissemination, adoption and use of powerful insights. Meanwhile the "collective" us will spend untold energy sending YouTube videos of a cat that has befriended a mouse. How many hits does a video that accurately depicts the average behavior of cats generate? Very few. Computer assisted social media has a tendency to amplify those things about humans that are the least profound and innovative and drown out the really and truly salient events.

This should be talked about. Discussed. Examined.

No?

Randall Reetz
Tom L.
user 5920872
Sunnyvale, CA
Post #: 86
All in all I think this is the most informative post I've read from you, Randall. Thank you. It is clear you lump Myspace and Facebook into the efforts to pursue collective intelligence and I quite agree they are marketing oriented and not instances of collective intelligence generation endeavor but, the baby, the baby, I think you've thrown it out with the wash water.

Well, you completely missed my point. I have a feeling this was your motivation. Though in doing so, you perfectly exemplify that which I was attempting to explain… that it is so much easier for people to find the center of human behavior and stay there at all costs (including the use of ridicule towards those motivated by bigger questions than "Am I as good at acting like you as you are at acting like me?").
Funny, I thought I was suggesting that was your "motivation," to attempt to ridicule that which does not fit your beliefs.

But your real point is ridicule, control through shame. It has worked for centuries. It's use is an accurate filter… separating those who risk truth from those who avoid insights that might require them to shift to a new center, or fear the contrast between original thought and their own center-seeking will be made obvious if it happens near enough to them.
I don't really think there is any control going on here and as far as ridicule goes, I think you might want to take more time and thought to your postings 'cause seems there is no one ridiculing yourself more than, uh, yourself.

I use the words "myface" and "spacebook" to make fun of "social networking" which is a "lifestyle" term that spins meaning way better than the more honest labels "social mirror" or "social control" and was the natural bridge that bound on-line behavior to the same social control practices of the brick and mortar world it augments.
Good to know. The cognition "burps" your spelling atrocities convey make it hard to see whether or not you are attempting ridicule or just plain old bein' quite dysfunctional. Might very well be a mixture of both.

But my point, my point, MY POINT… is that computing (for market exploitation reasons) has now become part and parcel with the social control mechanisms that so define human normative behavior, which to my thinking places "collective intelligence" exactly in opposition to the types of original and non-rhetorically bound thought from which positive change and complexity arise.
Seems you've got collective intelligence defined already and in a light that shines darkly. Be careful, good buddy, of wide sweeping denigration of non-original rhetoric, it is part and parcel of what has brought positive change and sustainable complexity, as far as I can tell. It is only when original thought gets bantered about with rhetoric and becomes common that the positive change ensues, me thinks. Might have been best if some of the original thinkers over the ages had taken secure refuge before their ideas made it to main stream.

How about you comment on the substance of my post. That might be constructive.
Good to see you doing so. Hard to see the salient forest for the comical gnarly trees and undergrowth. It is clear now, you hold the very idea of collective intelligence in contempt. That is clear as day now. Was it all that hard to get to your point?

If you are really and truly doing something of importance, salience supersedes aesthetics every time.
Every time? I think if you want to be salient you will attempt to avoid the blanket wide sweeping generalizations. Seems to me, eventually, aesthetics has been a big part and goal of being accurate.

Regan called it "common sense". Are you really wanting to be in agreement with Ronald Regan?
I don't really cater to that idea of Mao Tse Tung that one should oppose everything one's supposed enemies condone. When Reagen was president I wrote a poem that referred to him as "Ronald McDonald cathode tube ray gun" and remarked of the tens of thousands of dollars he spent for new White House dishes as "private service for a so-called public servant." I basically find science to be a non-blame approach with all humans on the same side with a common enemy, basically classical entropy. I think, from other communications you have attempted in meetup forums, that is a difficult idea for you. Please attempt to understand though, I welcome your posts and have gotten some things of value in a sort of ancillary manner. We are not enemies, right? Nothing like a little friendly rhetorical banter to clear the air, hey?
Samantha A.
user 3463403
San Jose, CA
Post #: 15
Note that for a while the most highly capitalized company of them all was started around the motto of "Think Differently" by an ex-hippie dropout. If you want to do something insanely great then don't aim for the 'safe bet' of where your or someone else think the average bloke is feeding. Aim for the most far out, screamingly good thing that you can conceive of that you and some other folks just might be able to build if you dare be that determined to do so. Anything else is boring. I say this after over three decades of mostly playing it "safe" in my career. It ain't worth it.

That said, there are great things to be build that can increase the effective intelligence of everyone, no matter where they are on any old distribution you like (with a few limits) that cares to and can be bothered to acquire and use them.
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