“Your corn is ripe today, mine will be so tomorrow. ‘Tis profitable for us both, that I shou’d labour with you to-day and that you should aid me tomorrow.” (David Hume/Reingold 29)
In the increasingly interconnected and global Internet age, we have found that it is easier to form collectively in a “tit for tat” mindset where cooperation is the most mutually beneficial option. The groupings that Hume were able to envision, small, limited partnerships between farmers to achieve mutual profit have blossomed exponentially. Marc A. Smith, now-research sociologist at Microsoft, told Rheingold that whenever a communication medium lowers the cost of solving collective action dilemma, it becomes possible for more people to pull resources” (Rheingold 31).
So we have established that the Internet age has increased the possibility for collective action. Clay Shirky is of this mindset as well, elucidating that the prisoner’s dilemma, where two actors could choose to cooperate or not, is highly relevant here. With the internet’s lowered transaction cost (the cost of an Internet connection, essentially), it is easier for groups to collectively form and act (Shirky 211).
However, the big question becomes, what are the ramifications of this almost completely free collective action? When Barlow from the Grateful Dead wrote his Declaration of Independence in cyberspace, he envisioned an unregulated space to act, think, and develop, and would almost certainly argue for fully free collective action. Shirky, however, believes there are problems inherent in unrestricted collective action, including mass amateurization of content, damaging social bargains, and the resilience of networked organizations like terrorist groups. Personally, I fall somewhere in between. While it is the job of the Department of Homeland Security and other government organizations to track down and stop illegal activity that would be a serious threat to our security, this power should be used sparingly. Freedom of thought is a powerful thing, and I believe in the importance of allowing like-minded people to combine resources and form groups, a feat made much easier by the Internet.
And so, I pose the question to you:
Would you agree with Barlow, that an unrestricted free space for collective action is important, or Shirky, that problems can occur and society will have to actively decide which groups to oppose? Or are you in the middle? Why?