Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 10 Sep 12 14:23
In his newest book, Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts are not the Facts, Experts are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room, David Weinberger explores how knowledge is being reshaped in a connected world. In this age of data overflow and cognitive surplus, David looks at the past and future of knowledge and how networks have become pivotal for the future of our learning experience. We are delighted to have David with us, and our own indefatigable Jon Lebkowsky leading the conversation. This room should be smart enough!
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 10 Sep 12 14:23
David Weinberger lives in Boston, is a senior researcher at Harvard Law's Berkman Center for the Internet & Society, co-author of the best-seller Cluetrain Manifesto, and frequent commentator on National Public Radio. He is an internationally recognized strategic marketing expert and consultant, and on the advisory boards of big name companies as well as start-ups. He has also written two seminal books: Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web and Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power ofthe New Digital Disorder. And he blogs at JOHO (http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/) Jon Lebkowsky is an author, activist, journalist, and blogger who writes about the future of the Internet, digital culture, media, and society. He's been associated with various projects and organizations, including Fringeware, WholeEarth, WorldChanging, Mondo 2000, bOING bOING, Factsheet Five, The WELL, the Austin Chronicle, EFF-Austin, Society of Participatory Medicine, Extreme Democracy, Digital Convergence Initiative, Plutopia Productions, Polycot Consulting, Social Web Strategies, Solar Austin, Well Aware, Project VRM, and currently Reality Augmented Blog. He is also a web strategist and developer via Polycot Associates.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 11 Sep 12 05:51
Thanks, Ted. And thanks, David, for taking this time to discuss your latest book with us, and perhaps we'll discuss other projects you're working on as well. I'd like to start with the tagline for your book: "rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren't the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room." Can you unpack that a bit, for starters? What does it mean to say that "the smartest person in the room is the room"?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Tue 11 Sep 12 12:23
One the central hypotheses of the book is that knowledge is moving (= has moved) from living in skulls, books, and libraries to living on networks and the Net. So, if you want to know about some topic beyond the occasional fact, you're likely to spend time on some network on the Net. It might be a mailing list, or a Google hangout, or Reddit, or a set of web sites... In fact, The Well provides a convenient example, and also lets me do some basic pandering. (Love ya, The Well!) A network of people connected in discussion and argument know more than the sum of what the individual people know. In that sense, knowledge lives in the network. For me, the most interesting aspect of this is another of the book's hypotheses: Knowledge is taking on the properties of its new medium, just as it had taken on properties of the old. Among those properties: networked knowledge is unsettled, and includes differences and disagreements that traditional knowledge insisted on removing (or at least marginalizing). I want to be clear from the outset, however, that I am NOT saying that networks are like brains and are developing some type of consciousness, etc. Nope. I am not one of those people.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 11 Sep 12 17:31
That's an interesting qualification. In fact some see the proliferation and evolution of the Internet as a manifestation of the noosphere hypothesized by Vladimir Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin, seen by de Chardin as something that "emerges through and is constituted by the interaction of human minds." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noosphere) The noosphere is often visualized as a global brain, and of course, an actual brain is a sophisticated network of interactions. Aren't there ways that the networks of communication and interaction emerging today really are like neural connections and interactions? (Though not necessarily evolving some kind of collective consciousness...?) On the other hand, don't we see networks of ignorance as well as networks that support knowledge?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Wed 12 Sep 12 05:43
You raise at least three points, Jon. All excellent. Damn you. 1. Did Teilhard de Chardin (and possibly that other guy, about whom I know nothing) anticipate the Net? I'd have to say no. After all, what could he have been thinking of when he talked about the Noosphere? Clearly not the Internet. And, as I recall from when I read him oh 40 years ago, he wasn't talking about technology at all. As viewed through 40 yrs of dust, he was giving us the notion that our combined thought is as important as our biological ecosystem. But I don't think he was imagining about a technological implementation of this. And if my memory is wrong and Teilhard was indeed thinking about technology, I bet he hadn't figured out hyperlinks. (Plot idea for a new Dan Brown novel: "The Teilhard Code" in which we discover that Teilhard invented TCP/IP. Harrison Ford as Teilhard. This thing sells itself.) 2. Is the Net like a neural network. Very likely. But, as with any comparison, the questions are: in what ways, and what are the conclusions we can draw from that comparison since the Net is also unlike neural networks in other ways. My answer: I dunno. 3. Yes, there are networks of ignorance as well as networks that enable knowledge. I'm enough of a relativist to say that the two are sometimes hard to tell apart, but not enough of one to say that we can never tell them apart. (Science is good, which is a far less effective way of saying what Reddit crowed after Curiosity landed: "Science, bitches!") As I suspect every member of the Well knows, the echo chamber argument says that not only are there networks of ignorance, the Net by its structure tends towards increasingly confidently held ignorance via confirmation bias. It seems to me that there are plenty of examples of the echo chamber effect at work, but I also see plenty of places where our online conversations make us smarter and even wiser. But I wouldn't want to leave this at the "some of dese and some of dose" point, because I think there is also something fundamentally wrong about the echo chamber argument, even while fervently believing that our tendency to hang out with those who are like us -- "homophily" as we say these days -- is real and worrisome. I think that sometimes the echo chamberists (i.e., those whose fear of echo chambers makes them miserable about the Net Age) overestimate the role of conversation as an activity of reason vs. its social functions. We talk together more often to engage socially than to pursue truth to its desert lair. And most conversation iterates on small differences; we need an enormous amount of agreement and similarity just to have a simple conversation. So, conversations that fail to argue down to first principles -- the Nazi and the Jew having an honest heart-to-heart in which each is open to adopt the other's belief system -- are exceedingly rare, and conversations that fail to live up to that standard have not thereby failed. In fact, echo chamberists often have an Enlightenment view of human reason that thinks it proceeds from first principles, and we thus always ought to be open to adopting radically new principles. In fact (= it seems to me) human understanding necessarily understands the new in terms of the existing context of understanding. Understanding is much more like digesting a meal than like building structures by laying a firm foundation. Which means that we live in something like an echo chamber, with the new almost always tacitly confirming what we already know, because to understand the new is to absorb it into the old. Here's an example. When I want to understand something like an economic bill or an FCC regulation, I go to a left-leaning site where experts hang out, and I let them contextualize it for me. I don't go to a right-leaning site because I lean left, and I don't want to have to undo their assumptions in order to understand the substance and impact of the news. No, I want to know, "What does this mean for the vision we share?" I might eventually go to a right-leaning site, but primarily that's anthropology, and sometimes opposition research. I really am not likely to be convinced by a rightwing site that stem cell research is evil. Nor am I ever going to become a Jewish Nazi, no matter how eloquent my Nazi interlocutor is. Yes, I am that closed-minded. Given my own concern about echo chambers -- networks of ignorance, as you call them Jon -- and my belief that understanding is digestive, it seems to me that we want to do a few things: 1. Teach Internet literacy. (Go, Howard Rheingold!). 2. Be vigilant about our own homophilic tendencies, while not beating ourselves up too much about getting more out of sites whose values we agree with. 3. Try to open windows in your echo chamber. This is something that I think Reddit.com is particular good at: with their "IAMA" format, a relatively like-minded set of people invite honest and open discussion with people with whom they fundamentally agree. I like this approach because it acknowledges that understanding is digestive, savoring the ideas with which it is never going to agree.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 12 Sep 12 11:00
I've come to understand (or at least think) that a thorough and complete "meeting of minds" is unlikely, if not impossible, because of the complex internal differences from one human to another, and that "shared understanding" is always approximate, never absolute. I think this aligns with your point that communication most effectively occurs when those communicating have much in common, where the differences addressed by discussion are not as substantial as they might seem. (Your example in the book of the pornography debate between Annie Sprinkle and Mae Tyme is a great illustration of this point - two feminists around the same age with many similarities, but a strong difference of perspective regarding pornography). The sense from all this is that "understanding" is a living process, and I like your analogy with digestion. You talk about online conversations that include diverse perspectives, how these can be very powerful and smart, or butt-ignorant, depending. If I want to set up a context for many diverse people to have conversations (as we have here, on the WELL), how do I ensure that those conversations are reasonably civil and intelligent, especially online, where no one knows you're a dog (or a rabid troll)?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Wed 12 Sep 12 16:26
As far as I know, there is no science here yet. There is a growing body of experience, but it's hard to know what lessons to learn, because civility is (it seems) an emergent property. So, we can generalize that having lightly moderated discussions works, but we don't know yet all the factors involved in this success. Nor do we know how to avoid butterfly effects in which a small change results in a major disruption. And here is where I should spell out what those general lessons are. But I don't know them any better than anyone else. It'd be wiser to turn this question back on you, Jon. The most broadly general answer I can give to the question of how we know who and what to trust on the Net is: Each domain has always had its own criteria for establishing knowledge, accepting evidence, etc. Now we're seeing trust methodologies being invented for particular sites. E.g., ebay has a pretty good system for helping you identify the crooks, and you can get a pretty good sense (usually) of someone who wrote a cranky review at Amazon. The rise of site-specific trust systems is pretty interesting. You can look into Putin's eyes on or off the Web and conclude he is a good man. So we need to keep our guard up, and our expectations for honesty on the Web down.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 12 Sep 12 22:04
Members of the WELL have robust sustained conversations that work primarily because each forum, or conference, as we 'call it, has a host or two to help manage the interactions. These hosts have a lot of leeway in determining how that management works, but it's usually light, often a matter of nurturing conversations, noting when there's topic drift, creating new topics of conversation, determining when and how to fork a conversation into a separate topic if a new thread seems to be emerging. In this context, you get robust sociality, and a talking-over-the-fence kind of community. You don't exactly find that on Facebook or Twitter, where you have what I often call "drive-by" conversation. This works well for casual conversation, though it's more of a challenge to have online conversations that are more focused, that require a decision at the end, or that try to facilitate knowledge in a disciplined way. And while some are getting better at facilitating productive meetings and conversations, there are challenges, like trying to determine and gather the useful bits of knowledge that emerge within conversations: how do capture new knowledge and make it actionable? Knowledge management has been around as a concept for some time, but that concept needs more refinement, especially with blobs of knowledge popping up everywhere. You get into the 'net-driven transformation of knowledge production and collection, and the question of authority seems to be a big part of that conversation. How do we decide what knowledge has priority and relevance, and can be actionable? Editors and academics don't carry the same weight as before, when publishing production was limited and expensive, and knowledge was vetted and shaped before it was released into the wild. Now anyone can publish anything, it's sort of anarchic. Because technology is such a compelling factor, there's a temptation to think that tools, rather than roles, will be vital to the management of all that brain-stuff. What do you foresee?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Thu 13 Sep 12 08:32
Tools + roles. The answer has to be as general as possible because it turns out "How do you create the conditions for a good conversation?" is a lot like, "How do you write well?" For that there is a two part answer: 1. It depends. 2. We dunno. Or, #2 put more exactly: it's easier to analyze successes than provide rules that lead to success. So, The Well's methodology works great for the sort of conversation you want. It'd be an utter disaster for Twitter and probably for most comment threads attached to posts. It might also work poorly for discussion topics that draw a different set of people. Or, if this were a sports site, the methodology might work well in producing a Well-ish conversation, but that might be the wrong type of conversation to have. I'm going to push back on your "kind of anarchic" comment, though. Within domains, there is generally little anarchy when it comes to norms and trust mechanisms. That's pretty much a necessary truth since sites that don't have well-known norms and trust mechanisms tend to fail (because they become anarchic). So, commenters at Reddit know what a Reddit-like comment is, as do commenters at Slashdot or at Gawker. The commenters know how off topic they can go, how profane they can be, what an acceptable length is for a comment, how much evidence should be produced, how much a credential counts, etc. When people violate those norms, there are various forms of sanctions imposed, from being voted down or being banned. But I agree that there is often anarchy _across_ sites. And since most sites are publicly available, it can often occur that someone posts who is ignorant or defiant of the norms. That can be disruptive. Which is why sites have sanctions or self-governing mechanisms. The upvoting of comments seems to work in many contexts. It well may not work at, say, a science site targeted by Creationists, or a health site targeted by fools. But where it works, I'd count that as an example of tools, not roles. And the great advantage of tools is that they scale, while roles do not. On the other hand, tools are much worse at managing exceptions, which is why Reddit has moderators and Wikipedia has a judiciary.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 13 Sep 12 11:45
Wikipedia is a good laboratory for exploring the question of authority. The Wiki platform itself is open by default; the original wikis had little structure and were democratic (I won't say anarchic) - anyone could post anything. With higher adoption the obvious thing happened - wikis had to be locked down, if only to control link spam. There's an interesting tension in the idea of using an open platform for an authoritative repository of knowledge. At the start, there was the emphasis on a tool that was open and collaborative, potentially a great way to build broad, dynamic, timely aggregate of everything - like the Junior Woodchuck's Guidebook that Huey, Dewey, and Louie used so effectively in the Carl Barks/Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge universe. But as it was clear that the open tool was open to abuse, Wikipedia defined a role for managing the vast numbers of contributions - editors, aka Wikipedians, took responsibility for quality assurance, fact-checking, and mediation of information disputes. Those disputes have been transparent, visible to anyone in the Talk pages. You discuss Wikipedia in the book - why do you think it's been so successful? How well do you think it works?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Thu 13 Sep 12 19:07
It's entirely reasonable to call it the world's greatest encyclopedia. Yes, plenty of flaws, weaknesses, etc. But pretty damn amazing. I think it works because Wikipedia aims itself not at validating a social production, but at producing the world's greatest encyclopedia. The social techniques are used because that's the only way to achieve scale and quality. That non-ideological pragmatism is, to me, the core of its success.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 13 Sep 12 21:20
You gave a talk at Fiber Fete in 2010 about the abundance of information/knowledge on the web. Here's a quote I blogged from that talk: "The abundance means we will fill up every space we can think of. We are creating plenums (plena?) of sociality, knowledge and ideas, and things (via online sensors). These plenums fill up our social, intellectual and creative spaces. The only thing I can compare them to in terms of what they allow is language itself. "What do they allow? Whatever we will invent. And the range of what we can invent within these plenums is enormous, at least so long as the Net isnt for anything in particular. As soon as someone decides for us what the Net is 'really' for, the range of what we can do with it becomes narrowed. Thats why we need the Net to stay open and undecided." Are you concerned that the 'net won't stay "open and undecided"? We seem to be resisting various efforts to lock it down or make it "for something in particular," e.g. as a more complex version of cable television. But will big media eventually coopt and dumb down the Internet and the web? Should we be exploring alternatives?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 14 Sep 12 09:12
Here's a short URL to this conversation that people can send to their friends and networks in order to join in: http://bit.ly/2big2know For off-WELL folk please send any questions or comments via e-mail to: email@example.com and we will repost to this conversation for you.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Fri 14 Sep 12 11:09
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Fri 14 Sep 12 13:48
I'm very worried. We are defending the Net from being turned into cable tv, but I'm afraid in the US the odds are against us. We are fighting corporations that are very large, that are close to monopolistic, that think like cable companies (because some of them are cable companies), and that stand to make a LOT of money if they can discriminate among bits. Just about everything in how we've structured the market for Internet access works against keeping the Net open and undecided. Here are some straws I grasp onto in the midst of my depression. Maybe there will be a technological breakthrough. Maybe there will be a miracle at the FCC and we'll get the restructuring that a sustainable openness requires. Maybe Google will decide to do for all of us what it is doing for Kansas City. Maybe we'll become so noncompetitive globally because of our inferior Net infrastructure that we'll wake up and see that providing Internet access is the Moon landing of the current decade. Maybe the Dutch will conquer us in order to liberate our Internet. Maybe, but probably not.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 14 Sep 12 14:41
Getting back to your latest book, you suggest that knowledge is being redefined, transformed. How do you see our concept of knowledge changing? Also thinking of that T.S. Eliot quote mentioned in the book: "where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"
Ron Sipherd (ronks) Fri 14 Sep 12 14:49
I don't know if it's in the book, but I think that line is preceded by "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?" which is also an interesting thought.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Fri 14 Sep 12 15:22
I don't find that the TS Eliot poem maps very well to how I understand knowledge, and he certainly wasn't talking about information the way we understand it nowadays. I cite it in the book as precursor to the data-info-knowledge-wisdom pyramid that I think is an expression of the reductive view of knowledge that the Net's capaciousness finally enables us to escape. As for how I see our concept of knowledge changing, that's tough because the whole book is about that. But the overall hypothesis is that traditional knowledge (can I start abbreviating "knowledge" as "K"?) took on properties of its paper medium, and networked K is taking properties of the Net. From confined to without boundaries. From settled to many differing pieces. From rare to abundant. From self-standing to linked. From black-box certification to looking behind the screen. Another way to put it: Traditional K seemed like true content handed to us by competent experts. Networked K seems like the work of humans who never quite get anything right.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 15 Sep 12 07:22
One way to look at this is that the Internet is such a mess, that the network context is making it harder for us to get things right. A different interpretation is that we never got anything right, but we didn't know it until we got a context for broad-spectrum debate... "everything you know is wrong." Which interpretation do you think is correct? (Or could it be both? Or "none of the above"?)
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sat 15 Sep 12 08:15
I think I'm closer to "All of the above." I think the Net is revealing what was always the case: We don't agree. Never have. Never will. Most of that disagreement was hidden by the binary nature of the old media: If you weren't published/broadcast, your views stayed as local as your pub. The sociology and economics of the old media resulted in the marginalizing of views that strayed any distance from the mainstream. But, it's quite likely -- it's hard to get evidence about this -- that the Net is enabling a further fragmenting of belief. And quite possibly a hardening of belief. (Yes, that sucks.) It is also the case, it seems to me, that the Net makes it clearer than ever just how tenuous a grip on the truth we poor humans have. The good side of this is that the Net can teach us (but doesn't have to) to pay closer attention to the processes and social structures that lead us toward truths. My most fervent hope for knowledge in the Age of the Net is that we learn that truth is not just true statements, but are statements in which we can have some degree of confidence because of the human processes that established them, and that have value because of the multiple ways in which we humans take them up and make them our own...which we do through social means such as arguing, proclaiming, and making common cause. (I just posted about this on my blog earlier this morning. It's not a coincidence because your questions, Jon, provoked me. I hate when that happens! http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/2012/09/15/2b2k-truth-as-meta/)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 15 Sep 12 09:45
Heh - I'm honored to be a provocateur in this context! I've done some writing and thinking about the democratization of knowledge, and about democratic process that drives decisions. The problem of authority is key. It's not a question of who has the power to act, though thats always relevant. I'm more concerned with the question of knowledge... who has the knowledge to act effectively? Democracy assumes that everybody in the room has one vote, and that all the votes have the same weight. But it's unlikely that everybody in the room has the same knowledge, or really the same understanding. And getting a majority on, not just the same page, but the right page, can be fruitless and time-consuming. People who think a lot about democracy all know this - that's why we have "representative" democracy, to reduce the number of voices, to have a group of leaders making the decisions. There are all sorts of issues related to this that we could talk about, but the most relevant is the impact of the Internet, in the way it's created so many channels for so many voices, many of which can be aggressively uninformed. Part of the realization of your fervent hope if figuring out how to deal with the noise, no? And another is how we cultivate what I was calling, in the "emergent democracy" discussions, "emergent leadership." The thought there being that headless organizations are still human organizations, and still need leadership, not necessarily to HAVE authority, but to MEDIATE what's authoritative. The buck stops somewhere, and in a headless organization you might pass the baton, hopefully without passing the buck. So I think I'm asking for two things here - for you to riff on the problem of authority and democracy (and I realize that's asking a lot), and also for at least the beginning of a conversation about best practices for getting, not just conversation, but decisions. If that's too big a bite, consider it one of the goals for the conversation, rather than a conversation to be answered in one swell foop.
Craig Maudlin (clm) Sat 15 Sep 12 11:11
> 20 Thanks for that link. And thanks for writing this book. One reason I liked 'Too Big to Know' is that I agree with your conclusions. But I really _enjoyed_ the book because of all the little points of disagreement I encountered along the way. An example from your linked blog post: > There are more untruths to learn on the Net than there ever were in > the paper world. But isn't this a kind of 'sampling error?' Doesn't the Net reveal a much larger portion of the totality of human thought than paper ever did? The fact the the Net lets us *see* more confused thought should not lead us to the conclusion that there *is* more confused thought. It might be there was more confusion in earlier times that was simply not visible (then, or now).
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sat 15 Sep 12 13:34
Jon, I'm afraid I'm not going to address either of your questions adequately, but the first one I'm going to inadequately address is the question of authority and democracy when it comes to knowledge. (Also, a note: In this context, shouldn't it be "In one Well sfoop"? Can we get "sfoop" adopted as a standard measurement for replies?) I think it's dangerous to connect democracy and authority in most instances of knowledge, at least in the way I'm about to describe (and that you, Jon, did not intend, but it's my sfoop so I get to answer the way I want). As an example, yesterday I was being interviewed about Wikipedia and truth. I felt that I had to intervene in the line of questions (from a really wonderful interviewer, by the way) to object that Wikipedia is not an example of crowdsourcing, at least in the best-known sense: the fair-goers guessing the weight of the ox. The point about a crowd is that everyone is equally insignificant, and thus crowdsourcing has the equality of voice that we associate with democracy. But Wikipedia doesn't work that way. If you try to rewrite the entry on, say, DNA because you've done research that proves it's a triple helix, not a double helix, your edit will be removed unless and until it's been published by sources that have put it through traditional editorial processes. Even if you're right. And that's a good process, in my view, because if all you had were equal voices, the DNA article would flip as fast as the antagonists could type. So, Wikipedia relies on the judgment of established institutions to make sure that not all voices are equal. Now, that's different from the equal access the Net provides to voices in the first place. And that everyone gets to speak seems to me to be just about purely good. It does, however, mean that we have had to create processes by which some people get heard more than others. Some of those processes are one-person-one-vote democratic (within a self-selected group) as at Reddit.com. Some of them rely upon the wisdom of moderators. Some of them use traditional peer reviewers, as at most open access academic journals. Good! Plurality is good! There is, though, a strong argument that the equality of voice dissipates into a meaningless catchphrase in the harsh realities of the Internet, in which people can attract attention by buying it, by making outrageous false claims, by being nasty, by appealing to the dominant race/class/gender as ever before, by getting hired by a major corporation that builds a huge honking site. As a result, the ecosystem technically enables all voices, but falls back into the old patterns when it comes to being heard. Yep. Power is knowledge. The Net doesn't fix that. But the Net is far better at letting all people speak, and enabling voices to be heard at least somewhat free of the old power structures.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sat 15 Sep 12 13:40
Craig, thanks for liking the book in pretty much exactly the right way :) I don't know what the answer to your question is. I only have a guess, which is that the number of interactions the Net enables increases the number of ideas, and thus we may have more wrong ideas than ever before. It's also easier to squelch bad ideas when there are fewer sources of information. But I honestly don't know. I take the wider availability of bad information to be simply a part of the wider availability of all information. As I think anyone who does research will agree, the Net is the most AWESOME tool for learning in our history. Since you've read my book, you know how passionate I am about the Web as a resource and, more important, about how it's transforming our idea of knowledge into something more human. So I don't want my criticisms and concerns to lead people who haven't read my book to think that I am anything less than head over heels in love with the Net.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 16 Sep 12 03:53
Some years ago, Joi Ito asked people who read his blog to join a conversation about "emergent democracy," the one that culminated in the paper with that name, which was produced collaboratively, beginning as a Word document, then migrated to Quicktopic for annotation, then added to a Wiki. I created one edit, which I suppose is canonical, for a book I co-edited, _Extreme Democracy_. That was an interesting process and I suppose it could be called crowdsourcing, though it was a select crowd. It was an attempt to have a democratic conversation about democracy, specifically about the possibility of an Internet-era democracy mediated by technology. In the first meeting of that group, we talked at length about the online potential to have many voices in any conversation, but I felt we were missing something, and I raised a question on that call that hasn't been resolved for me in all the years since then. The question was this: democracy is supposedly not just about a conversation, but about governance. Governance is about making decisions every day about all sorts of things, but generally about what policies we all agree to follow and how we agree to use resources held in common, e.g. how to spend tax dollars, how to use public lands, what highways to build and how to maintain them, etc. A conversation can go on forever without leading to decision or action, as anyone who's been in a dysfunctional meeting knows. So my question was, given that we have broadly accessible tools for facilitating all sorts of conversations and can bring so many voices into the mix, how do we get from conversation to decision? Is there now some other way to do that, than through elected representatives? I heard many people talking, back then, about the potential to have pure or direct democracy, but could you imagine having a popular vote about every point in the Affordable Care Act?
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