Group think

Caution - editorial:

Howard Rheingold, writing at SmartMobs, points to an interesting site put together by researchers at Los Alamos, Collective Decision Making Systems.

A lot of the new media types are similarly tempted to follow the faith of journalist James Surowiecki's "Wisdom of Crowds," a re-hash of the dream that somehow mobs are less likely to make poor choices than specialists.

The idea that a "free market of ideas" is an unparalleled, universal solution expands the faith of neoclassical economics into yet another social sphere, with the same blind spots and gradual impoverishment to follow. "The market" is neither natural nor monolithic; every society in every era forms and reforms the rules and realities of exchange to benefit their projects, and rarely are these rules truly free or fair.

Some inflections reflect the power of a few to bend the rules to their own ends. Yet others reflect cultural and social values that are sometimes lost by "market failures," instances where "collective decision making" is fatally flawed. The reality is that these are not at all uncommon, despite what the orthodox would have us believe.

Wise crowds? Perhaps. But the anonymity of crowds is at least as likely to enable collective irresponsibility. My point is that there is real danger in blindly adopting decision systems without an understanding of who's in, who's out, and who stands to benefit most. The devil's in the details.

No comments: