I started writing a post that drew rather depressing conclusions based on connecting (well, associating at any rate) news in InfoWorld that “Yahoo Inc. is researching areas such as microeconomics to help it better understand the behavior of users, or of advertisers in areas such as keyword auctions” with comments by Jaron Lanier, who voiced some justifiable concerns in “Digital Maoism” and now concludes “Beware the Online Collective” with:
“What’s to stop an online mass of anonymous but connected people from suddenly turning into a mean mob, just like masses of people have time and time again in the history of every human culture? It’s amazing that details in the design of online software can bring out such varied potentials in human behavior. It’s time to think about that power on a moral basis.” [There’s more to the article than this, so check it out]
Then I read this:
“Paradoxically, one of the biggest reasons for being optimistic is that there are systemic flaws in the reported world view. Certain types of news — for example dramatic disasters and terrorist actions — are massively over-reported, others — such as scientific progress and meaningful statistical surveys of the state of the world — massively under-reported.
“Although this leads to major problems such as distortion of rational public policy and a perpetual gnawing fear of apocalypse, it is also reason to be optimistic. Once you realize you're being inadvertently brainwashed to believe things are worse than they are, you can... with a little courage... step out into the sunshine.”
It’s by Chris Anderson and appears in The Edge Annual Question 2007. The question is “What are you optimistic about?” and the 160 responses (I have yet to get through them all) are often encouraging. It can be hard to look at current trends – the environment, population growth, pandemics, politics and religion, and, yes, algorithmically fueled mass online activity, and remain all that sanguine about the future, so it’s great to see these impressive thinkers immersed in the power of positive thinking. Of course, the question was phrased to elicit some kind of optimistic response. It doesn’t ask if the respondents are on the whole optimistic about the future. Anyway, I’m going to use up a little of that courage, get back to coverage of CES, and see if there’s a new toy I can’t live without.