Whatever happened to the spirit of Web 2.0? The utopian hive mind thinking where society moves forward collectively together, selflessly populating wikipedia for the good of the planet and sharing their knowledge in corporate wikis seems a distant memory now.
We seem to be currently deep in a personality driven era, whether in judgmental reality TV knock out competitions, the now ubiquitous media personality Twitter digital broadcast accounts or the 'thought leader' presenter of concepts and ideas.
Eight years is a lifetime in the tech world, yet we seem to have gone from a brief blossoming of interactivity, mash ups and sharing back to a passive consumption and comment model. Nowhere is the personality driven world of high end big ideas more venerated than in the TED talks, with their by invite only, single presenter format that has followed an interesting arc as times have changed. To quote Wikipedia, TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, formed to disseminate "ideas worth spreading".
Although the 'Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world' format was founded way back in 1984, the series really took off after recorded video was offered for free viewing online since June 2006 under a Creative Commons license, through TED.com. There are well over a thousand 'talks' available free online, and many are very good indeed.
However, Megan Garber, a staff writer at The Atlantic writes in an excellent article titled 'How TED Makes Ideas Smaller'
….We live in a world of increasingly networked knowledge. And it's a world that allows us to appreciate what has always been true: that new ideas are never sprung, fully formed, from the heads of the inventors who articulate them, but are always -- always -- the result of discourse and interaction and, in the broadest sense, conversation. The author-ized idea, claimed and owned and bought and sold, has been, it's worth remembering, an accident of technology.
…A TED talk, at this point, is the cultural equivalent of a patent: a private claim to a public concept. With the speaker, himself, becoming the manifestation of the idea. And so: In the name of spreading a concept, the talk ends up narrowing it.
Recognized ownership of ideas is a very big deal indeed, always has been, always will be, and a primary driver of self esteem. As I've noted here previously, the formal Royal 'Order of the British Empire' (OBE) award to individuals is often referred to as 'Other B*gger's Efforts' in the UK - usually by the group of people who feel their hard work was ignored with the bestowal of an OBE for it to a vaguely connected individual.
Recognizing contributions and collective efforts in the workplace is critical to the often underestimated task of getting people to work more closely together, to trust each other with information and to share. Academics and analysts are an easy target with their attempts to define trends based on other peoples efforts, and not coincidentally they are often the most competitive people around information.
The information rat race is alive and well on the public internet as evidenced by the one upmanship back and forth around existing information and ideas on Twitter between 'frenemies' in tech industry verticals. Efforts to trump cohorts on a topic and emerge with the sharpest observations are 'the result of discourse and interaction and, in the broadest sense, conversation' to quote Megan Garber again. What's new is that the loudest voice, and the' squeakiest wheel' are often the ones who get recognition for a group effort, regardless of quality of contribution.
The weird currency of 'followers' on social networks won't buy you a cup of coffee today but will enable you to take ownership of concepts you've been discussing if you chose to push the advantage of your large audience. This can be very unhealthy for the future dissemination of ideas. Cliques are nothing new but groups of people can drive apparent ownership of concepts. Most of us are familiar now with industry blog posts which have positive comments from individuals who support each other, a sort of digital peloton, to use a cycling analogy.
(A peloton is the main group of riders in a cycling road race. The group save energy by riding close together, drafting and slipstreaming with each other; there's a tactical element near the end as the strongest riders break from the pack to win, often with support from team mates).
Most office politics tend to be around recognition of efforts and results, particularly when a difficult task has been overcome and it's safe to take credit for a success even if you didn't actually do anything. The internet is an ideal channel for this type of behavior whether public or inside a company and this reality is a primary barrier to participant confidence in sharing information.
There's an irony in the cult of personality around people like Clay Shirky, who 'studies the effects of the internet on society.' and the relative anonymity of the seething online masses who make up our 'world of increasingly networked knowledge'...
Peloton Image from Wikipedia