Unity Without Uniformity: The Implications of Wikis

The internet has resulted in forms of collective human association without any individual being crushed by the collective.

One form of such an association has come to be called a ‘wiki.’ In the implementation of wiki projects one sees the result of a collaborative effort in which each participant was an independent agent. There are no deadlines(other than death itself), there are no mandatory office hours. One can contribute when they want, how they want, if they want.

In terms of accuracy and quality of content, wikis compare favorably against traditional encyclopedias. In terms of sheer volume, Wikis can cover a much larger variety of content than an encyclopedia ever could and keep constantly up to date all the while.

Such a high quality public resource results from the efforts of many individuals who never even meet one another. A wiki is a product of an environment with very low friction of association.

As such it enjoys certain advantages over a highly regulated structure:
-People acting on their own don’t have to be motivated or compelled in any way. None of the actors are formal associates in any way, thus there is no reason to try to ‘get the most’ out of the labor of each individual. If one lazy person leaves an article half complete, someone else will finish it. There is no urgency because such an organization passively collects contributions as a leaf collects rays from the sun.

-Those who contribute tend to do so in their area of expertise. Individuals know more about their strengths and their interests than any manager ever could. A non-interventionist system results in everyone working on what they’re best at, what they most enjoy. When personnel distribute themselves on tasks according to their interests and strengths, standards of quality are maximized. Not only is higher efficiency achieved, the cost of an authoritarian manager is eliminated.

The whole thing causes me to reflect.
It becomes necessary to have a hierarchy and highly specific goals with deadlines when running a business or a state.
But when organizations with the loosest of ties regularly churn out an outstanding free product I have to consider:
Compelling, allotting, scheduling, and assigning people to tasks while accounting for every second of available work time per employee is an extremely maintenance intensive process. At a certain point the cost of governing one’s employees must exceed the benefits of governing them.

Minimizing friction of association seems to be the obvious means of improving effectiveness.
A society or organization founded on compulsion and uniformity is still attractive because such an approach ensures a certain outcome. However, such a highly structured structured system must consume a large portion of its output just to keep itself running. Such a system has little potential to outperform what is expected of it. It performs very like a computer program, doing only exactly what it is told.

As for the possibility of a cohesive Subtle organization that minimizes friction of associaton, consider the attributes of Subtle persons.
They are:
-Knowledgeable, skilled, imaginative, critical thinkers.
-Introvert outcasts who have little stake in any existing order. This makes them highly versatile agents who can serve their function any place, any time, and under any circumstances.
-Highly accustomed to functioning as independent self-motivated agents. Minimal if any maintenance or supervision required.
-Highly desirous of a niche that satisfies their basic human need to belong.
-Often unemployed or unusually low in the employment hierarchy for their ability level. No one is presently making good use of their potential, nor is anyone likely to do so. They are lying around in a salvage yard, readily available to anyone who wants them.

The trick is finding them within the vast orthodoxies that have swallowed them up.(or in which they’ve hidden themselves!)

Zygmunt blogs at Kingdom of Introversion (and elsewhere).

Unity Without Uniformity: The Implications of Wikis appears here by permission.

[image via Flickr/Creative Commons]

on 08/22/11 in featured, Internet | No Comments | Read More

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