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-- E.O. Wilson

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Monday, January 18, 2010

The Shape of Things To Come (#scio10 take-away)

Today, just my own broad take-away message from this weekend's ScienceOnline 2010 conference...
(If you read a lot of science blogs you'll likely see some wrap-ups to the just-ended conference, or you may already have encountered it on social networking sites -- #scio10 ):

In recent years several writers have criticized the Web, and especially the blogosphere, for 'dumbing down' society; bloggers particularly, are seen as driven by narcissism and egotism in a race to the lowest common denominator, in their quest for audience. Most of the millions of blogs out there are indeed mediocre at best... and probably worse. Moreover, it's true that outrageous, controversial, gratuitous, violent, or sexual postings often attract more audience than higher-quality thoughtful content, although over time consistently well-done blogs do generally rise to the surface and find a niche.

I sometimes fret about the future of the blogosphere myself... will it implode in another decade of its own anarchism and infantilism, damaging society irreparably in the process? (for example professional journalism, as we've known it for over a century, may well die, as will other careers). Before this week's conference though I read Scott Rosenberg's "Say Everything," on the history of blogging, and including a more upbeat, optimistic view of its future evolution. And then at ScienceOnline the energy, diversity, and even almost hive-like intelligence of the attendees (and their parental-like love for their blogs), reinforced my optimism in the underlying value of blogs (even though 10 years from now we may view today as but the primitive Medieval Ages of blogging).

 I might still even agree with critics that blogs are largely fueled by narcissism and egocentricity, but... so too are many aspects of society, politics, economics because some level of egotism is part of being human. Ego becomes troubling when it drives the pursuit of money and material things, or power, but most bloggers profit little if any from their blogs at all. Yet they often expend 5 to 40+ hrs./wk. keyboarding away in a sheer labor-of-love of communicating. If that's in part a product of the ego so be it; I'm not so sure it's a bad thing, compared to coveting the newest 72-inch flat screen TV because your neighbor got one. Egocentrism may well have been a central ill force in the recent near collapse of our poorly-regulated free market economy, but in the realm of ideas and communication, it may actually contribute to productive creativity.

If the American system is broken, as many say, the fix will almost certainly deeply involve the Internet, and in some small way blogs will have a role. For now it's still the wild, wild West out there, but the open collective conscience will gradually sort things out. Witnessing the vibrant change-agents and early-adopters at ScienceOnline bolstered my faith and trust that those forging the digital future generally (and thankfully) have their heads in the right place --- in fact frankly it's hard to imagine how they could possibly screw things up any moreso than previous generations have already done!!

....It all reminds me a bit of an old '60s pop hit, "Nothing Can Change the Shape of Things to Come" by Max Frost and the Troopers (for all you ex-hippies out there):

"There are changes
Lyin' ahead in every road
And there are new thoughts
Ready and waiting to explode
When tomorrow is today
The bells may toll for some
But nothing can change the shape of things to come...

There are new dreams
Crowdin' out old realities
There's revolution
Sweepin' in like a fresh new breeze
Let the old world make believe
It's blind and deaf and dumb
But nothing can change the shape of things to come..."

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