In this week’s reading of Here Comes Everybody, Shirky discusses the complexity of “social dilemmas” when considering the burden and challenges of collective action. In doing so, he breaks down collective action into the fundamental building blocks of generating social capital (naturally doing favors for and trusting one another through a process called reciprocal altruism), using new technology to decrease the burden of finding those with shared interests (i.e. programs such as Meetup and message boards), and the types of social loss that follow improved freedom of assembly. In the epilogue, Shirky agrees with the viewpoint that “increased flexibility and power for group action will have more good effects that bad ones, making the current changes, on balance, positive” (303).
Discussing to what end new technology will affect every day life, Shirky states, “The internet augments real-world social life rather that providing an alternative to it. Instead of becoming a separate cyberspace, our electronic networks are becoming deeply embedded in real life” (196). We learn from the examples in Shirky’s book along with the “futuristic” predictions offered by Rheingold in Smart Mobs, that mobile technology and an abundance of new “social tools” is clearly changing the way individuals can find each other and organize based on shared interests or beliefs.
What struck me as interesting from both readings this week was the concept of reciprocal altruism. Beginning with the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” (in which people are tasked with weighing their own self-interests and the interests of others) and ending with the idea that online social tools create a new kind of collective intelligence, both authors argue that the development of social network technology is dependent on the individual’s ability to trust and share information and knowledge with those around them.
Proposing a future where people only interact face-face when they are also “connected” to wearable, personal computers and social technology, Rheingold states, “Each social encounter of wearable computer users involving automatic exchanges of personal data, sharing of bandwidth, or passing of messages from others would necessarily involve individual computations of where each participant’s self-interest lies in relation to a computation of the other party’s trustworthiness” (173).
Do you agree with Rheingold’s prediction? Will this new technology really just enhance our lives, or is it instead creating a new virtual “world” in which we only trust others to the extent that we can gather information about them through these computer systems?