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  • The Power Of Contribution

    There is no doubt that the internet changes how we consume sports, both positively and negatively. But does it also change the way we think?

    In the October 2013 issue of Wired, Clive Thompson examines the benefits of blogging and online posting for the writers, the readers and the world. Essentially, he argues that the deluge of information to which we are exposed everyday is changing how we think for the better.

    And it is a deluge:

    Every day, we collectively produce millions of books’ worth of writing. Globally we send 154.6 billion emails, more than 400 million tweets, and over 1 million blog posts and around 2 million blog comments on WordPress. On Facebook, we post about 16 billion words. Altogether, we compose some 3.6 trillion words every day on email and social media — the equivalent of 36 million books.* (The entire US Library of Congress, by comparison, holds around 23 million books.)
    Thompson isn’t delusional about the quality of most of that content:

    The science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon famously said something like, “Ninety percent of everything is crap,” a formulation that geeks now refer to as Sturgeon’s Law. Anyone who has spent time slogging through the swamp of books, journalism, TV, and movies knows that this holds pretty well even for edited and curated culture. So a global eruption of unedited, everyday self-expression is even more likely to produce this 90-10 split — an ocean of dreck, dotted sporadically by islands of genius.
    Thompson’s first point is that focusing only on the content is a mistake. The more important effect is that people are writing, instead of just reading. And writing changes how we learn and think, usually for the better. Because when you write about something, especially publicly, you pay a lot more attention. He cites studies where students change the way they learn when they know they must present their knowledge to an audience, even if the audience is small.

    Many people have told me that they feel the dynamic kick in with even a tiny handful of viewers. I’d argue that the cognitive shift in going from an audience of zero (talking to yourself) to an audience of 10 (a few friends or random strangers checking out your online post) is so big that it’s actually huger than going from 10 people to a million.

    This is something that traditional thinkers of the pre-Internet age—particularly print and broadcast journalists — have trouble grasping. For them, an audience doesn’t mean anything unless it’s massive. If you’re writing specifically to make money, you need to draw a large crowd. This is part of the thinking that causes traditional media executives to scoff at the spectacle of the “guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing what he thinks.” But for the rest of the people in the world, who probably never did much nonwork writing in the first place—and who almost never did it for an audience—even a handful of readers can have a vertiginous, catalytic impact.
    Thompson’s second point is that the impact is further multiplied when it is exposed to a community who can take the ideas and run with them. Leaps forward in knowledge often happen simultaneously and independently. This implies that those breakthroughs aren’t just due to the individuals. They’re building on previous work; the time is ripe for a breakthrough. That’s why there are scientific research journals and standards for citing each others work. They were attempts at a global network before there was the internet.

    The internet drives that collaboration to a whole new level. As an example, Thompson tells the story of Ory Okolloh, a blogger who wrote about Kenya during the 2007 upheaval over elections. Trying to track all the incidents was overwhelming. She openly asked for a way readers could submit them directly to Google maps. One of her readers took that request to a friend who was a developer and they quickly cobbled a tool.

    The tool allowed anyone to send an incident report in text, email, or web form, which they then pinned to a Google map. They called it Ushahidi—the Swahili word for “testimony.”

    Within days, Kenyans had input thousands of incidents of electoral violence. Soon after, Ushahidi attracted $200,000 in nonprofit funds and the team began refining it to accept reports via everything from SMS to Twitter. Within a few years, Ushahidi had become an indispensable tool worldwide, with governments and nonprofits relying on it to help determine where to send assistance. Just hours after a massive earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, an Ushahidi map was set up, and over the following month it cataloged 25,000 text messages and more than 4 million tweets. It has become what Ethan Zuckerman, head of MIT’s Center for Civic Media, calls “one of the most globally significant technology projects.
    When Okolloh started her blog about Kenyan politics, she wasn’t trying to develop an indispensable worldwide aid tool. She just wanted to study Kenyan politics. But her interest turned into a blog which turned into community which turned into a network. Big things can happen, both internally and externally, when one graduates from reader to writer.
    ~~~

    If you would like to contribute to some of the discussions on TwinsDaily, you might want to start by registering. You’ll then be able to post comments to our stories, or discuss the latest Twins rumors in our forums. You even get your own Twins blog.

    If you want to learn more about this topic, follow the link to the Wired story at the top of this article. You can also check out Clive Thompson’s new book Smarter Than You Think, a study on how technology is making us smarter. The Wired story is an excerpt from this book.
    This article was originally published in blog: The Power Of Contributon started by John Bonnes
    Comments 7 Comments
    1. goulik's Avatar
      goulik -
      Great article, Thanks John!
    1. ChiTownTwinsFan's Avatar
      ChiTownTwinsFan -
      I concur. Lots to think about in that. Thanks!
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      "an ocean of dreck, dotted sporadically by islands of genius."

      How could you not have adopted that as the official Twins Daily tagline yet?
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      You learn to write by reading. You learn to think be reading different opinions and then trying to place your own into words. It's the fingers that often screw up on the keyboard.
    1. PseudoSABR's Avatar
      PseudoSABR -
      The internet allows for a much more organic flow of ideas from the margins to the center. In the past media was so much more finite, there were only pages to print, minutes of programming to air, and only so much consumers were willing to pay for such media, and the notion that people would produce such media for free was reserved only for the most cultish and proselytizing among us. That the internet has made it cheap and easy to produce ones own media, allows for non-guaranteed money-making, good ideas to make their way from message board to blog to larger media and so on. In the past, only those articles (tv programs, books) that were thought to appeal to unchanging generic audience would be published. Now, group-think need not diminish what becomes centered and promoted. And more there's sustainable communities for whatever interest any two humans can share made possible by internet's vast reach.

      Honestly, it's no wonder baseball's embrace of sabermetrics and the growing legitimacy of internet media goes hand and hand. Unpopular ideas that challenge the status quo can more quickly topple traditional forms of thinking due to fluidity and breadth of the internet.

      People are probably reading more than ever, as it's far more efficient to communicate in writing than it is by voice (much less video). We're getting more analytical too, as we learn to fish through pages of words for the information we seek and find pleasurable.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Great stuff and hard to argue against. Anyone who posts regularly can probably think of times when just before hitting "submit" they deleted a seemingly great post after realizing the thought wasn't nearly as coherent or logical upon proof reading. Or maybe it's just me.

      Still trying to decide if this part advocating blogs (which are often believed to be crass compared to print media) is intentional or not:

      "I’d argue that the cognitive shift in going from an audience of zero (talking to yourself) to an audience of 10 (a few friends or random strangers checking out your online post) is so big that it’s actually huger than going from 10 people to a million."

      Ha, huger?! Has our casual vocabulary finally made that word acceptable but I was not notified?

    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      Great stuff and hard to argue against. Anyone who posts regularly can probably think of times when just before hitting "submit" they deleted a seemingly great post after realizing the thought wasn't nearly as coherent or logical upon proof reading. Or maybe it's just me.

      Still trying to decide if this part advocating blogs (which are often believed to be crass compared to print media) is intentional or not:

      "I’d argue that the cognitive shift in going from an audience of zero (talking to yourself) to an audience of 10 (a few friends or random strangers checking out your online post) is so big that it’s actually huger than going from 10 people to a million."

      Ha, huger?! Has our casual vocabulary finally made that word acceptable but I was not notified?

      I thought the same thing when I read "huger." I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cringe.

      Then he won me back over a paragraph later with "vertiginous."
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