blog (January, 2007)
I count Lawrence Lessig as one of my real-time mentors, (though he doesn't know me.) I've been very influenced by his work on intellectual property and his views on free software, open spectrum, Free Culture.
Considering he is at the very forefront of his field, his decision to change the focus of all his attention -- especially to a field where he'll face severe opposition and in which he is "nothing more than a beginner" -- is remarkable and, I think, admirable.
He'll continue as CEO and boardmember of Creative Commons, boardmember of the iCommons Project, and head of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, but:
I have decided to shift my academic work, and soon, my activism, away from the issues that have consumed me for the last 10 years, towards a new set of issues.
"Corruption" [...] will be the focus of my work.
I mean "corruption" in the sense that the system is so queered by the influence of money that it can't even get an issue as simple and clear as term extension right. Politicians are starved for the resources concentrated interests can provide. In the US, listening to money is the only way to secure reelection. And so an economy of influence bends public policy away from sense, always to dollars.
I am 99.9% confident that the problem I turn to will continue exist when this 10 year term is over. But the certainty of failure is sometimes a reason to try. That's true in this case.
Instead, what I come with is a desire to devote as much energy to these issues of "corruption" as I've devoted to the issues of network and IP sanity. This is a shift not to an easier project, but a different project. It is a decision to give up my work in a place some consider me an expert to begin work in a place where I am nothing more than a beginner.
We [at Google] have something called a project database, which is visible to all employees, which lists all the projects, and we use that to manage a lot of the remote stuff. There's also something called the snippets database where people put in what they are working on.
... a culture which requires, if you will, people to write down what they're doing and then other people get a chance to see it, even if they're not in the same place. That seems kind of obvious but it's not true in almost any organization. At other organizations they can't see what the other organization is doing, and the CEO can't see either because the management prevents communication.
So you get a flatter organization -- flatness is not a function of reporting hierarchy, it's a function of information flow.
-- Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Google Inc., My [Fred Vogelstein's] other interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt (Wired)
[...] 'all of us know more than any of us' (including the professionals) and that self-experimentation combined with information-sharing with millions of other self-experimenters could lead to a much healthier population at much lower cost than the dysfunctional system we have now. This is another example of the Wisdom of Crowds [link mine].
While self-experimentation may lack objectivity [...] it has the unarguable advantage of taking into account individual variability (our bodies and minds are all different), and the personal engagement of the 'patient' must inevitably improve its efficacy. [...] It is only learned helplessness, and the outrageous prohibition of self-experimentation [...] that diminished self-experimentation from the principal means by which we accepted responsibility for our own health, to "inadvisable", "rash", and "irresponsible" behaviour. We now defer to 'professionals' to tell us what's good for us, at huge and arguably unnecessary cost to the 'health care system', our self-reliance, our independence, and our sense of personal responsibility.
Experts certainly have a role, but they can hijack the agenda and deprive the whole process of legitimacy just because they have so much knowledge. So one of the problems with democracy that we have in the world right now is that people just don't think it achieves anything for them - that's why you get participation declining so dramatically in many Western democracies. [...] The experts have to provide the information that allows lay people to make informed decisions, without taking over the process.
A crowd can become smart mainly because it is a collection of individuals, who're different, who have different knowledge, different resources, different viewpoints, and somehow a synergy emerges in what they do. Their different pieces complement each other, and something bigger becomes possible. It isn't that there's any great wisdom in averaging what a lot of people think. A vote by majority is pretty dumb. Lots of people applying their unique skills to working together - that can be really big.
But most efforts at such teledemocracy so far, such as [...] www.vote.com, or even [...] www.moveon.org, are simply new versions of the public opinion poll. Billing themselves as the next phase in a truly populist and articulated body politic, the sites amount to little more than an opportunity for politicians to glean the gist of a few more uninformed, knee-jerk reactions to the issue of the day. Vote.com, as the name suggests, reduces representative democracy to just another marketing survey. Even if it is just the framework for a much more substantial future version, it is based on a fundamentally flawed vision of push-button politics.