The ability to find, know, communicate with, collaborate with other people online and offline is probably the most powerful amplification of human capabilities that the Internet offers. Think of how many genres of collaboration there are today — virtual communities, smart mobs, collective intelligence, crowdsourcing, social production, online marketplaces. We have wikis, forums, blogs with comments, crowdsourcing platforms, websites for coordinating everything from auctions to political demonstrations.
Humans are humans because we are able to communicate with each other and to organize to do things together that we can't do individually. Our ancestors, surrounded by predators, were unable to run very fast, fight very well, lacked claws, wings, fangs — but they were able to organize collective defense and collective food gathering. More important, we're the only species who are able to spread individual innovations throughout tribes, networks, civilizations, by teaching others what we've learned. The Web did not invent collaboration, but it enables people to collaborate with people they weren't able to collaborate with before, on scales and at paces and in places we weren't able to collaborate before. The Web itself is an enormous collaboration.
I'm curious what it's been like for you, a long-time published author, to be joined by people of all stripes and of varying levels of experience, education and background, who are also writing but without the traditional book contracts. Do you ever wish for days when only professional authors were read and heard or do you like the fact that these days everyone, online, has essentially their own printing press. Put another way, collaboration and instant feedback can be great but can't it also be frustrating if it makes it harder to get your own messages out there?
Absolutely not! The portion of the knowledge that I am able to find, assimilate, and propagate on a daily basis that comes from "amateurs" online is much larger than the considerable amount of knowledge I still glean from published books by recognized authorities. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of crap out there, which is why I believe crap detection — the ability to determine the accuracy of online information effectively and quickly — is an essential literacy today.
You have been writing about your life online for 30 years now. What do you consider the biggest positive development with technology during that time and the biggest problem that has come about during that time?
The ability of people to find others who share interests and problems and to share with and help them. The biggest problem is the amplified capability of people with destructive ends to connect with each other and to plot together.