Online No One Knows You're an Expert...

The always insightful JP Rangaswami ruminates around the internet 'knowledge is power' philosophical conundrum in his latest post.Fundamentally the web makes experts “dumb” by reducing the privileged nature of their expertise, posits JP.
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

The always insightful JP Rangaswami ruminates around the internet 'knowledge is power' philosophical conundrum in his latest post.

Fundamentally the web makes experts “dumb” by reducing the privileged nature of their expertise, posits JP.

For information to have power, it needs to be held asymmetrically. Preferably very, very asymmetrically, starts JP.... If you can make sure that no one else has access to information that you have access to, if you’re in a position to deny others access to the information, then you can do something useful with it. This is 'asymmetry-in-access'.

Asymmetry-in-creation means if you create/originate the information in question, then it is possible to prevent anyone else from knowing it, while JP defines asymmetry-in-education as expert education obfuscation...

... exploited by experts in many guises: doctors, lawyers, priests, even IT consultants. And their theme song is simple. “You didn’t have to work as hard as I did to know what I know. It’s complex, you won’t understand it.”

Symmetry-by-design, says JP, is where you take something that is essentially abundant and, through fair means or foul, get it redefined as scarce.

...Most implementations of Digital Rights Management are attempts to create asymmetric access, make something scarce by design.

Asymmetry-by-creation, and its alter ego, asymmetry-by-design, are about creating artificial scarcity. This is fundamentally doomed. I’ve said it many times. Every artificial scarcity will be met by an equal and opposite artificial abundance. And, over time, the abundance will win. There will always be more people choosing to find ways to undo DRM than people employed in the DRM-implementing sector.

We all know the internet is a great leveler - just ask the king Canutes of the music recording industry, who ran the publishing and distribution channels of recorded music last century and were blindly in denial to digital duplication realities. After a decade of absurd posturing around peer to peer networking ('information wants to be free...') Apple stepped into the business vacuum and created structure around music purchase with their playback device and store structure.

Musicians and those in the 'creative' industries typically ongoingly live and breath Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000-Hour Rule" from his Outliers book. The key to success in any field is essentially a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours, says Gladwell, and anyone who has studied playing a musical instrument will concur this is their foundational core.

It's easy now to find online, for example,  how to play someone else's song on the guitar, via tablature, the painting by numbers of guitar music, and increasingly through YouTube video. This is a wonderful thing but does it foster creativity?

The reality is that innovation is rare - we live in a consumer society which values and understands Karaoke mimicking over creativity. Musicians from the last century now rely primarily on live performances for revenue having essentially lost control of the income from music sales by the labels they trusted to market and distribute their products on discs.

You can find all manner of musical performance on Youtube, but finding true innovation - the shock of the new - can be challenging. We can learn how to play the guitar part of 'Stairway to Heaven' by Led Zeppelin - banned in many music shops because so many people play the opening guitar sequence and it drives the staff nuts - over hours of practice, but that's very different from creating an original song form of that caliber.

The video at the top of this post encapsulates the birth of 'restrictor plate' racing in the US NASCAR motor racing world.

The 1987 212.8 mile an hour lap of Talladega by Bill Elliott stands as the fastest in that very fast track's history; that same weekend Bobby Allison nearly got into the crowd in a frightening tire failure, and as the video shows, NASCAR powers that be slowed the racing down with a restriction of fuel flow to the engine across the class.

The resulting racing since this rule change means no one ever gets far ahead of the field - the innovation and creativity of the Bill Elliott team to get their car to the 212 mph mark is now stifled by power restrictions which keep the race cars below 200 mph, but arguably makes the racing more dangerous for the drivers.

My analogy is that the internet is much like this restrictor plate racing - we have a tightly packed field of 'experts', with low barrier to entry, and only those at the front of the field avoid getting caught up in 'the big one', as NASCAR aficionados call the restrictor plate race multiple car pile ups that regularly decimate the field at tracks like Talladega, but don't endanger the spectators.

The IT industry which typically fleshes out the concepts of these crowd sourced movements go through cycles of growth and decimation not unlike the restrictor plate pile up footage above. We are in an era of incremental, over giant step innovation, and arguably the internet's current growth stages can act as a restrictor. Asymmetry in creation only lasts until you try to monetize an idea or product and those is power positions are like those at the head of the race field who can outrun the carnage behind.

Unfortunately some of the carnage is currently created by cargo cultist participants around ideas and movements - those who have

been pumping content into the void like some chatterbox Onan. How humiliating. How demoralizing.

to borrow a line from Leo Laporte, who entertainingly wrote today about his epiphany about 'social media' fragments being less effective than an online website center for his thoughts.

'Calorie free' content eviscerates powerful ideas as surely as copycat musicians trivialize new musical idioms with weak imitations, and the internet has arguably made it harder to be recognized as the canonical root, the source of an original idea, for long.

There's no question we are 'rewiring our brains' - making us think and behave differently, as this Economist article discusses.

...the Jeremiahs have a point. Their concern is that prolonged use of the internet—with its smorgasbord of tantalising titbits of information—is producing a generation of magpie minds, as users hop from one bright trinket to another, rarely focussing long enough on any one topic to comprehend it thoroughly. According to this view of the brain, the lack of “deep thinking” lies at the heart of the present generation’s inability to sweat the hard stuff. Google, with its instant access to factoids of dubious veracity, is singled out as a primary source of the malaise.

...The danger, if there is one, is that the easy, on-demand access to reams of information from the internet may delude us into mistaking the data we download for genuine wisdom worth acting upon. The internet is just another reference source, albeit one on steroids that sucks up content so fast that little of it ever gets peer reviewed. Only fools would venture into such a forest with anything less than their eyes wide open and their brains fully engaged. Fortunately, there are fewer fools around than some of the scaremongers like to think.

JP is correct around the abundance of brainpower online to overpower scarcity: the challenge of the age is in making a living from your role as one of the 'many hands making light work'. To borrow the cubicle decoration cliche 'Unless you're the lead dog the scenery never changes' - and that's pretty much true in a NASCAR restrictor plate motor race also. Whether you're an 'expert' or not there are always going to be winners and losers...

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