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Singularity Watch: The Group Mind

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For those of you just joining us, let me introduce you to the guru of The Singularity movement. Ray Kurzweil is a transhumanist and proud of it. Equal parts genius and huckster, he’s got a website that acts as a clearing house for all things Singularity as well as a platform to sell his brand of life-lengthening drugs and paraphernalia. I admire this guy; he’s done some amazing things with his genius. I took the health survey at his website and wound up with a recommendation to take fish pills to alleviate my morning stiffness. So I started taking them. Guess what?  They worked.

I have respect for the man even though I’m cynical when it comes to transhumanism. I read his site regularly. Here’s an interesting item, the site posted last Friday:

Collective Intelligence in Small Teams

Why does a site about the Singularity have information about collective intelligence? I suspect it has to do with where the Singularity is taking us. Maybe one day we’ll have a group mind. One day, all knowledge will be held by every single person on the planet simultaneously. If they’ve subscribed, that is. I can’t begin to fathom what a subscription to the collective intelligence would be like. Or maybe I can. Isn’t that what the Internet is?

At any rate, the take away from the article linked above is the fact that effective organizations are those that include women. This is not earth shaking news. It has been known for a long time that women excel at cooperating. Sharing, teamwork, and communication seem to come naturally to the girls. There are shades of behavior in either gender, certainly, but it is generally accepted that women are good in groups.

Trying to figure out why that would be, I’d have to say that it’s because women, in general, are more likely to volunteer time without immediate compensation. If there’s one thing any organization needs, it’s people going above and beyond the call. This is true in for-profit concerns as well. These days in the corporate world employees are expected to work longer hours without compensation. Apparently companies can’t turn a profit without a certain amount of volunteer effort.

Back to the original interesting idea. I don’t know if all that about groups with women excelling is true, but I can share observations from my experience with two volunteer groups run by women. I have no idea if they are more efficient or effective than similar groups run mostly by men.  Both of the groups I have experience with are non-hierarchical. They aren’t run on the President/VP/Secretary/Treasurer model. Supposedly this is a characteristic of woman’s natural organizational model. One thing I can say for sure, the effectiveness of each organization is dependent, not on a group effort, but on a few truly stellar workers, people that are putting in a lot of time and energy. If these personalities were not involved in the group, the group would flounder. Now  maybe in a woman’s group there’s more of a chance that someone will step up to give of themselves without immediate payback. Perhaps if a stellar worker in a key position leaves, the vacancy is more quickly filled than it would be in a male-dominated group. Or, maybe women’s personalities are more flexible. Women can rise to any occasion, but men can only rise if they were born to it.

Dunno. Just pondering here. And starting to ponder about how generalizing can get you into deep you know what. But it is fun, isn’t it?

More interesting than pondering that, though, is pondering whether or not our group mind, i.e. the Internet, will push us to become more cooperative, less individualistic out in the real world. Less competitive. Will this Internet push us toward the non-hierarchical model of social organization that the old matriarchies favored?

Very curious this Singularity, this Internet.

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About Sue Lange

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I think the only major flaw to your “pondering” is that Women are to often guided by their emotions which would seriously weaken any group with a common agenda.

    But that’s just me pondering…

  • More interesting … is pondering whether or not our group mind, i.e. the Internet, will push us to become more cooperative, less individualistic out in the real world. Less competitive.

    Maybe it’s an unfair question, since you’ve been writing for Blogcritics for only 30 days. But do you have any thoughts on how BC fits into this paradigm?

    I’ve been writing for and commenting at Blogcritics for the past 11 months, and have seen no evidence of any group mind. Admittedly, I haven’t been looking for one. Even so, if it existed, I think I’d have noticed it by now.

    To the contrary, I’ve seen rugged individualism run amok. Blogcritics brings out contrarians, people looking for a fight and who readily find one. The discourse is competitive, male-dominated, and often gets downright nasty.

    I find it hard to conceive that those of us who engage in such online fractiousness are moved to become more cooperative and less individualistic out in the real world.

    Maybe the problem is that I haven’t been following threads where women hold sway, such as Unnecessary Pap Smears, with its amazing 2,200 (and counting) comments.

    But is your point that the Internet will push only women to become more cooperative, less individualistic, and less competitive out in the real world? I got the impression you believe that women are already that way. If so, that leaves men. And I just don’t see us becoming more cooperative, less individualistic, and less competitive thanks to the Internet, especially if Blogcritics’ male/female segregation is typical of this medium at large.

  • I agree with Ala–hey, what just happened?

  • Brian, the men I know all make decisions based on emotion. Where did you get the idea that only women do that?

    Alan, really good thoughts on this. I wasn’t thinking so much about blogcritics or blogging aggregates in general. You are right that these types of blogs seem to be platforms for individuals blasting out opinions instead of working to solve problems. I’m thinking more about things like wikipedia where anyone has a say in getting to the truth of a matter.

    And not all blogging is nasty, individualistic arguing. There is a lot of intelligent discussion. I think the Internet can be a vehicle for education or coming to consensus. Everything might not be as entertaining as the “competitive, male-dominated, and … downright nasty” stuff that gets a lot of attention (and let me tell you the Ms. boards used to be quite nasty as well, so it’s not a male-only thing). There’s a lot going on on the Internet, the blogs and the loud people are not the only ones with a voice.

    I think the Internet can be a vehicle for a group mind. Maybe it won’t ever be though. But then, maybe a group mind is not possible.

  • Sue Lange (#4), thanks for your reply. However, I’m still left with the impression that you believe the Internet as vehicle for group mind will ideally, and perhaps necessarily, require the effeminization of male participants. I’m not suggesting that you are anti-male, just that you seem to prefer that males behave more like females in order to properly “civilize” the Internet/group mind. Am I right? If so, you’re in for a disappointment. The Internet is a powerful force, but it can’t overcome fundamental human nature.

  • Alan,

    That hadn’t even crossed my mind. I’m not even sure what constitutes innate male or female behavior. People from one gender in a certain culture might exhibit behavior that is usually exhibited in the opposite gender of another culture.

    I guess the question is, what is fundamental human nature? Or more accurately, can we actually identify it out of cultural context?

  • Sue, the cultural context here is provided by the final sentence of your article: “Very curious this Singularity, this Internet.”

    As I construe that statement, the Internet and the Singularity are one. And as I explained in comment #2, Blogcritics itself provides a microcosmic context of how male and female attributes separately manifest on the Internet. Why don’t we stick to that subject instead of wandering afield to examine other, presumably pre-Internet cultures? For the sake of this discussion, I’m interested only in how fundamental human nature expresses itself via the Internet/Singularity. And it was you, in your article, who invoked gender differences.

    So I ask again, does the Internet’s evolution as the vehicle for humanity’s group mind ideally, even necessarily, require the effeminization of male participants?

  • I don’t think so, but I’m not an expert on what exactly constitutes effeminization. Are you?

    If it’s going to happen, no questions asked, and it requires effeminization of male participants, whatever that is, then I guess that would imply an affirmative answer. But who says it’s going to happen?

    And no, the Internet and the Singularity are not the same thing. I never meant that in the statement.