An idea is set in motion by being shared. The scope available to use for pooling, exchanging and developing ideas determines the extent of our innovation and creativity and so fundamentally our prosperity, well-being and hope for the future. Ideas grow by being articulated, tested, refined, borrowed, amended, adapted and extended, activities that can rarely take place entirely in the head of an individual; but which invariably they involve many people sharing different insights and criticisms. The web allows shared creativity of this kind to involve more people, discussing more questions from more angles with more ideas in play, at least it does as long as people organise themselves in the right way. We have only just started to explore how we could apply this collaborative, participative culture to social challenges.
Charlie started his contribution with a wry reflection on his failure to engage his 12-year-old son with a YouTube video he made. Here's the video:
And here's Charlie:
The surprise of the evening came from Andrew Keen, who has been a fierce critic of Web 2.0 in his book Cult of the Amateur. He is billed as "the antichrist of Silicon Valley" and in 2006 he claimed:
... we are teetering on the edge of catastrophe. Blogs, wikis and social networking are, indeed, assaulting our economy, our culture and our values. Web 2.0 is pushing us back into the Dark Ages.
In the book he argues that the Internet is killing our culture, and threatens our traditional media. He told Times Online last year:
In a world without newspapers, publishing houses, film studios, radio and TV stations there’ll be nobody to discover and – no less important – to nurture talent. The result could be no less catastrophic than Pol Pot’s decision to eliminate talent and expertise in Cambodia by mass execution.
“Once dismantled, I fear that this professional media – with its rich ecosystem of writers, editors, agents, talent scouts, journalists, publishers, musicians, reporters and actors – can never again be put back together. We destroy it at our peril,” says Keen.
Last night Andrew's line was rather different. He called the book great, and a grand narrative, as you can see here:
While Web 2.0 has its faults, Andrew was hopeful, even optimistic, that in the future the professionals will reclaim their traditional territory.
The reality is that web 3.0 is actually going to be a moment when the experts, professionals, grab back the levers of power, the tools of creativity. When I wrote my book I was fearful that the masses were taking over and the future of the world was wikipedia. I actually think that the future of the world are professionals, doctors, academics, even politicians who will use the tools of the Internet like anybody else to distribute their wisdom and exertise. So I'm actually much less pessimistic in the way I look at the world about the future.
Perhaps this was not wholly in contradiction of Andrew's previous views, where he emphasised the role of the individual in innovation - rather than the group "we" of Charlie's book. He is now more confident of the capacity of professionals to stand out from the "amateur" online crowd.
The whole event was very friendly, and doubly useful as an opportunity to meet some of the people who had contributed to the wiki where Charlie developed the book collaboratively. Nothing like a good NESTA reception to make some potentially collaborative connections, as I previously found here.
You can download the first three chapters, see the first draft, and more background, on the book site.
Update: On the NESTA Connect blog Roland Harwood has provided a summary of Charlie and Adrew's different perspective and this insight:
The most interesting part of the discussion for me was that the web, a platform that lends itself to sharing and arguably the 1960s greatest legacy, is now the platform for modern commerce which is based on individual ownership and competition. So the key challenge will be how will big organisations, whether private or public, will adapt to this collaborative world? Interestingly the debate around the impact of the web in the US tends to be mostly focussed upon the economics, but the debate last night focussed as much on the social and political implications. The consensus from both speakers was that organisations are critical and require a core engine that makes the rules and combines both top down and bottom up solutions.
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