Real Time Collaboration Platforms Help You Get Dumb as Hell


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This started off as one of my typical attempts to generate debate in the Accidental Community the other day – just for fun. Then I started thinking about Hives and the Borg and realized that maybe I was onto something. Could the socialatti be wrong about collaboration? It was fun to play the devil’s advocate, talking about how ants don’t know much, but they all know the same thing and they know it well. Same with Bees. I mean, when was the last time you saw anything innovative come out of a hive?

As the fun continued, I found an online headline generator to really stir things up. Nothing like a really offensive headline to get the juices flowing. I had to throw away great headlines like:

Who Else Wants To Get Really Stupid And Get Dumb as Hell?!

They Laughed When I Said I’d Get Really Stupid– But When I Dumbed Down They Begged Me For My Secret!

FREE Report Reveals 5 Secrets To Get Really Stupid

And my personal favorite…

If You Can Follow Simple Directions, Here’s How To Get Really Stupid In Your Spare Time – And Have Fun Doing It!

OMG, there are people who agree with this!

Being the great researcher that I am (all of my opinions are based on research, because I have no experience), I began doing Google searches (my reliance on Google kind of proves the point) like “does real-time collaboration make us dumber?” Wow, I found results. Most of it simply has to do with the Web, but it’s really the same issue. If we have information at our fingertips do we really need to know anything?

OK, so we’re experiencing a paradigm shift. No longer do we need to be smart and maintain a database of internalized knowledge or information. We can count on others to do it for us. But wait! If everyone does this, will anyone be smarter than me? That’s an interesting question.  Doesn’t this drive us toward a dumber equilibrium? I’m sure the argument goes that the collective is smarter than the individual. Really? As an aside, just ask Glenn Beck what he thinks about collective salvation.

The Power of Asymmetry

JP Rangaswam wrote a piece called Does the Web Make Experts Dumb? in which he emphasized the power of asymmetry. This is just another guy’s opinion, but a smarter guy than the collective, wouldn’t you agree? Maybe you don’t. He’s probably smarter than me, though. He believes that for information to have power, it must be held asymmetrically, “preferably very very asymmetrically.” The premise is that for information to be used in a powerful and profitable way, you have to know something that no one else knows. Make sense so far?

  • Asymmetry in Access – in essence, when you have information that no one else has, you have power. Power to do something of real value. I think we all know that things become commoditized quickly when every has access. That may have some value to the consumer, but not the provider and value has to be a two-way street. Would we ever see innovation if you had to cough up your idea so everyone could go to market with it at the same time? Redistribution of information is as bad as redistribution of wealth. The both hinder entrepreneurial behavior. There’s simply no reason to do it if you know your personal outcome is under the control of the collective.
  • Asymmetry in Creation – this is closely related to the innovation argument I made above in that the real value in creating something lie with your ability to control access to it. Patents are used for this purpose. On the other hand, my mother, who is an artist, also creates paintings and is able to enjoy the process of creating it, and also the ability to decide if she will provide access to it. She can keep it, give to me, sell it, give it to me, or put it in an art show, or give it to me! I can tell you from first hand experience that she keeps much of it in closets and boxes, a lot of the rest has gone to family and she has also sold a lot. I would really hate having to send the paintings I have on tour around the world at my expense so others could enjoy them.
  • Asymmetry in Education – This becomes a touchy subject because equality in education is a goal many people hope for. This is what drives equality in opportunity. While some also hope for the contradictory position of equality in outcome, JP suggests that you can’t legislate outcomes. I agree with that based on history, yet we keep trying to recreate mistakes of the past. Anyway, asymmetry in education is used by many professionals to create value by suggesting that “you don’t need to spend 8 years in school like I did, I can do it for you. Sit back and relax.” In fact, many of us have expertise in our disciplines that pay our mortgages each month. Do you really want to let go of that? I’ve got a nice 3-room flat in the heart of the manufacturing District for you – fresh coat of old gray paint!
  • Asymmetry by Design – This also ties in closely with innovation. The concept, however, is make abundant things appear less abundant. A simple example might the music industry. We never really had any problem accessing music before. It was the way we accessed it that led to asymmetry be design. Someone invented an electronic device that require you to purchase music digitally through their network. I think iTunes falls into this category. It created value for Apple and for consumers.

You might be wondering if JP is suggesting that the Internet makes you dumber. Look at his title again, it makes experts look dumber because we each have broader and deeper access to information – making us…smarter? Here’s what JP says:

Which brings me to the reason for this post. There’s been a lot of talk about the web and the internet making us dumber.

I think it’s more serious than that. What the web does is reduce the capacity for asymmetry in education. Which in turn undermines the exalted status of the expert.

The web makes experts “dumb”. By reducing the privileged nature of their expertise.

I agree with a lot of what he talks about in his post. But, I completely disagree with his conclusions about what is good for us. He makes the case for asymmetry and then tells us it’s bad. We depend on it. I believe the information we access on the Internet is no different than products being commoditized. There will always be something held close to the vest. Innovators and knowledge keepers will always look for ways to maintain control as long as they can. It’s the only way to be profitable. And that’s the only way to pay us the ridiculous wages we expect

Let Me Tell You About the Borgs and the Bees

So, a little bit of academic non-sense and now it’s time to move onto the fun stuff. So, I’ll come right out and say it.

I’m dumber because of near real-time access to information and answers.

The funny thing is that I’m dumber because someone else has control of information I need. Sure, I can memorize it, or build my own database (I know how to do that )but it’s just so darned easy to call my vendors support desk on the same issue over and over again. It’s really much easier than maintaining this information locally. Same goes for the communities I participate in. Why memorize anything when I can just look stupid and ask the crowd the same thing over and over? Trust me, I’ve done this!

Now, before you get all apoplectic about this position, I must say that I’ve also used these platforms (namely the social ones) to further my thinking. I look at things much differently than I did a few years ago, for instance, because I’ve been able to debate issues in real time. Yet, if that’s made me look like an expert to some, it proves that experts are dumber, ‘cuz I ain’t that smart! After all, I use all my channels as information bases instead of remembering it myself. I don’t know, maybe that makes me smarter than I was.

I guess there are two ways to look at this. Access to information is good. Or, restrictive access to information is profitable. Personally, I think that we’ve commoditize aspects of information access which makes our lives (personal and professional) better.  It also allows people that normally wouldn’t engage in the real world, a new way to do so.  At the same time, there will always be asymmetry in access, asymmetry in education, asymmetry in creation and asymmetry by design as long as there are means to deliver products and ideas to the market in a profitable way. Only those who promote equal outcomes and collectivism over all else can stop that.

But I seriously doubt they can.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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