Jaron Lanier at Edge.org:
It’s funny being an “old timer” in the world of the Internet. About six years ago, when I was 40 years old, a Stanford freshman said to me, “Wow Jaron Lanier—you’re still alive?” If there’s any use to sticking around for the long haul — as computers get so much more powerful that every couple of years our assumptions about what they can do have to be replaced — it might be in noticing patterns or principles that may not be so apparent to the latest hundred million kids who have just arrived online.
There’s one observation of mine, about a potential danger, that has caused quite a ruckus in the last half-year. I wrote about it initially in an essay called “Digital Maoism.”
Here’s the idea in a nutshell: Let’s start with an observation about the whole of human history, predating computers. People have often been willing to give up personal identity and join into a collective. Historically, that propensity has usually been very bad news. Collectives tend to be mean, to designate official enemies, to be violent, and to discourage creative, rigorous thought. Fascists, communists, religious cults, criminal “families” — there has been no end to the varieties of human collectives, but it seems to me that these examples have quite a lot in common. I wonder if some aspect of human nature evolved in the context of competing packs. We might be genetically wired to be vulnerable to the lure of the mob.