Journalism’s “mandatory potlatch”

John Tierney ponders the key question, imo, of the past decade: “When does the wisdom of crowds give way to the meanness of mobs?”

Tierney’s New York Times piece today focuses on a new book by digital pioneer  Jaron Lanier, “You Are Not a Gadget,” and Lanier’s attack on “the glorification of open-source software, free information and collective work at the expense of individual creativity.” Or, as Tierney describes the cost of the Web’s “gift culture, … a mandatory potlatch for so
many professions — including my own.”

Lanier, he writes, slams the Web’s “drive-by anonymity” for fostering vicious pack behavior on blogs, forums and social networks. While sites like Wikipedia exemplify generous collaboration, ‘the mantras of “open culture” and “information wants to be free” have produced a destructive new social contract … authors, journalists, musicians and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.'”

Tierney discusses ideas about micropayments and better policing but compares the problem to “trying to stop a mob of looters. When the majority of people feel entitled to someone’s property, who’s going to stand in their way?”