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Benkler and Hawken Reunited

by Jeff Cobb

A while back I briefly mentioned Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom and Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming in a posting that suggested the dynamic of serendipity, and ultimately, order that seems to emerge from the blogosphere (Connections and Comparisons: The Wealth of Blogs). Both Benkler and Hawken have continued to pop up on my radar screen with some frequency, but this week they happened to pop up again at nearly the same time and again in a somewhat related way.

First, I came across (via Downes, via Federman) the following video of Hawken speaking at the Bioneers 2006 conference (just click this link if you don’t see a video below). It is right around six minutes long and offers a good general overview to the premise of Blessed Unrest.

Second, as I was catching up on my blog reading, I came across a posting on elearnspace that pointed to an interview with Yochai Benkler on Jason Kottke’s blog. I particularly liked the following from Benkler on the scope, quality, and ultimately, value of information on the Web:

The probability that any newspaper, however well-heeled, will be able to put together the kind of legal analytic brainpower that my friend Jack Balkin has put together on his blog, Balkinization, is zero. They can’t afford it. On the other hand, even the Weekly World News is tame and mainstream by comparison to the quirkiness or plain stupidity some people can exhibit. The range is simply larger. That’s what it means to have a truly diverse public sphere.

If you want to find evidence of nonsense, as of course it is important to people whose sense of self-worth depends on the special role traditional mass media play in the public sphere, you will easily find it. If you want to find the opposite, that too is simple. What’s left is to wait and see over time whether one overwhelms the other. As I wrote in the book, I do not think we are intellectual lemmings. I don’t think we jump over the abyss of drivel, but rather that in this environment of plenty we learn to develop our own sense of which is which, and where to find what. Perfect information about all the good things, we won’t have. But we don’t have it now either. Instead we have new patterns of linking, filtering, recommendation, that allow us to do reasonably well in navigating a much more diverse and interesting information environment than mass media was able to deliver.

This, of course, brought to mind my recent critique of Andrew Keen’s article in Associations Now. Keen’s thinking, in my opinion, goes against the idea of “a truly diverse public sphere” and the elitist approach to information gatekeeping and expertise he favors is a force against the type of movement that Hawken describes. Fortunately, it is not enough of a force to hold the movement back—a point made clear by the continually scrolling screen of more than 130,000 organizations loosely united to created the “blessed unrest” that Hawken describes.

A bit of added serendipity: Mark Federman, whose blog was on the path to the Hawken video, also features a critique of Keen that is well worth reading. As Federman puts it, Keen’s argument “is problematic twenty-five ways to Sunday.” He goes on to identify four specific problems with it. I also like Harold Jarche’s comment on the posting that “the amateur can afford to lose, and is therefore open to criticism as part of his or her development.”

One final bit of serendipity: In my original Connections and Comparisons posting I specifically pointed to blogger David Sabol as someone whose thinking seemed to be running parallel to mine that week. In the time since then, Dave’s wife was in a very serious car accident, and he has been focused on the challenges of caring for her and their son. Naturally, this meant putting aside blogging for a while. Last week, however, the postings started back up at Associated Knowledge. Those of us who are regular readers are glad to have Dave back.

JTC

posted on November 29, 2007

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Kwan November 30, 2007 at 2:30 pm

WiserEarth.org , a project of Paul Hawken and his team, is a directory of more than 100,000 nonprofits working on social justice and environmental sustainability around the world. Hawken mentions it at the end of Blessed Unrest.
It is a way for people and those working in these organizations to connect and visualize themselves as a movement. Check it out, anyone can use it and contribute!

Jeff Cobb December 4, 2007 at 8:17 pm

Mike–Thanks for stopping by and posting. I, too, encourage M2L readers to visit WiserEarth.org. Jeff

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