The New York Times has a post today called “Serendipity, Lost in the Digital Deluge.” The argument Damon Darlin makes simplified is the following.
Technology is providing us infinite choice in movies, music and other content (e.g., Netflix). The way this content is delivered is obfuscating discovery of who is consuming what (e.g., music downloaded directly to iPhone). Facebook and Twitter are trying to solve this problem by providing visibility into content consumption. But those services generating too much data to keep up with so users follow influencers which leads to group-think.
I agree group think can be dangerous. We’ve seen some terrible examples of it. But new communication technologies are enabling more people to take part in thoughtful conversations than ever before.
On most user generated sites, 1% of users create content, 10% comment or opine and 89% just consume. That’s significantly more people commenting on articles on the NYTimes than ever before, when such public editorial was restricted to the letters to the editor.
The author missed one very important point in this article: there is a world of difference between group think and wisdom of the crowds. Group think is a passive activity where group members are relieved or relieve themselves of the responsibility to think critically about an topic.
Wisdom of the crowds is generated when a group of subject matter experts opines on a topic. The first example of this was a group of several hundred farmers who to great accuracy for the time, correctly determined the weight of a cow by averaging their guesses. The reason this estimate worked is the question was posed to a group of subject matter experts, not because one farmer guessed a weight and all the others went along with it.
Finding a group of experts leads to better filtered results. It’s true for music, literature and other forms of content. The technology we’ve developed enables more of these experts to broadcast their opinions, call to question existing lines of thinking and influence others. They separate the wheat from the chaff and provide great service to their audience.
Fifty years ago, there was one RollingStone, three television stations and a mass market culture. Today we have hundreds of thousands of music blogs and streams, thousands of channels both online and off a culture where citizens interact with the government directly, with the press directly and with artists directly.
It may not be perfect but technology enables the sound of millions of voices, not one.