The internet has afforded many individuals an easy venue to voice their opinion in the universal human online community, and the massive space and immense tolerance of internet has encouraged a diverse range of opinions. Many people say that internet, especially the social media trends popularized in recent years, has put democracy into common people’s hands, and encouraged the presence of individuality online. There is another school of thought that looks at the collectivism side of the internet, and the prospects of how the collectivism of the internet, powered by crowd wisdom created by Google, Wikipedia, and other collective platforms, is crushing individuality online.
Last week, The New York Times featured Jaron Lanier’s new book, “You Are Not A Gadget”, in which he voices his concern for a “cybernetic totalism” future for our internet and how that would impact our society. In this book, he does not just tap into how the “wisdom of the crowd” could turn into mobs on the internet, but he also boldly predicts the consequences that may be brought by the digitalization of intellectual property. Here is an excerpt from the Times article: “Mr. Lanier is most eloquent on how intellectual property is threatened by the economics of free Internet content, crowd dynamics and the popularity of aggregator sites. “An impenetrable tone of deafness rules Silicon Valley when it comes to the idea of authorship,” he writes, recalling the Wired editor Kevin Kelly’s 2006 prediction that the mass scanning of books would one day create a universal library in which no book would be an island — in effect, one humongous text, made searchable and remixable on the Web.” This potential might hurt content producers’ individual interests.
I am always fascinated by these visionary insiders in the digital industry and their predictions for the future. Even though it might not really happen, these predictions are definitely proactive and offer one possible future, one where content creators and consumers as well as the policy makers should be prepared for.
Personally, I agree that there are two individualism trends and collectivism trends occurring at the same time in the social media world, and I do not think they have to be conflicting with each other. Instead, they could complement each other if managed properly. A community is usually based upon collaboration to fulfill individual needs, which could be both physical and emotional, and that does not necessarily entail in sacrifice of individuality. The unique color of each individual is a brick in the foundation of the diverse online community world. Even though everyone shares some sort of common identity in the online community world, and maybe a sense of belonging, I think the ultimate purpose for a community is for people to help themselves find their individual existence in it, and to strengthen their existence through giving and taking from the online communities. If not, why would an engaging member of a community care to build up their avatars in the virtual world and earn social status in it just as they do in the real world? I hope and believe that individuality will find ways to prosper in this collaborative world.