Echo chamber, sensorium, reflection, and action

On Tuesday, December 7, 2004, at 05:17 PM, Joichi Ito wrote:

One thing that I've been noodling on is the attention issue. How do we get
people to care? It seems to me that video is able to capture attention
better than text. Human voices help. Music is good. One of the problems is
really to get enough attention from people to walk them through an issue.
It's like the elevator pitch. Most people have the attention span of a busy
executive in an elevator. I think it's important to write about all this
stuff, but to a certain extent, it's an echo chamber. That's how the
election in the US was lost. The echo chamber was pretty fired up, but not
very many people on the other side listened. As the issues become more
complex or more remote, there is even less attention available. Can blogs
really help?

– Joi

Here are some thoughts in response to Joi's stimulus:

Of course we in the blog world need to do a better job of communicating–with “elevator pitches” and video and compelling writing–and we need to work together to expand what you, Joi, have called the “economy of caring.” That said, I'm not sure we can supplant the role of television, and the role of conventional organizations, in the world. Nor do I think we necessarily want to.

Consider the world as a kind of big mind. This is the noosphere concept, originally and creatively developed by Teilhard de Chardin.

To this end, he suggested that the Earth in its evolutionary unfolding, was growing a new organ of consciousness, called the noosphere. The noosphere is analogous on a planetary level to the evolution of the cerebral cortex in humans. The noosphere is a “planetary thinking network” — an interlinked system of consciousness and information, a global net of self-awareness, instantaneous feedback, and planetary communication. At the time of his writing, computers of any merit were the size of a city block, and the Internet was, if anything, an element of speculative science fiction. Yet this evolution is indeed coming to pass, and with a rapidity, that in Gaia time, is but a mere passage of seconds. In these precious moments, the planet is developing her cerebral cortex, and emerging into self-conscious awakening. We are indeed approaching the Omega point that Teilhard de Chardin was so excited about.

This convergence however, though it was predicted to occur through a global information network, was not a convergence of merely minds or bodies — but of heart, a point that he made most fervently.

“It is not our heads or our bodies which we must bring together, but our hearts. . . . Humanity. . . is building its composite brain beneath our eyes. May it not be that tomorrow, through the logical and biological deepening of the movement drawing it together, it will find its heart, without which the ultimate wholeness of its power of unification can never be achieved?”

The noosphere might be thought of as having three parts: A “sensorium” or collective image of the world, a center of reflection, and a center of action.

In the emerging noosphere, as I see it, TV still defines the sensorium of global consciousness..and in the US TV is slowly working its way from a few network news organizations, to cable news, to, perhaps, pod-cast and other forms of narrowcast news..

Blogs collectively seem to be a center of collective reflection and discussion, not so much an echo chamber–after all, there is lots of diversity of opinion on blogs–but rather a “reflection center”. Blogs and the blogospere don't compete with CNN and the New York Times. Blogs and blog networks compete with syndicated columnists, and, over time, might compete with think tanks such as Brookings or the Council on Foreign Relations or CATO.

And then there is the action side of the global mind, and for better or worse, this is done by real flesh and blood organizations. Unless one can engage them, permeate them with reflection, and/or involve their leaders in reflection, one cannot act.

I don't think the Dean campaign was an echo chamber. What it was was a reflection network that was not connected to any organization that could act effectively. It was blocked out of access to the traditional Democratic organization, and the Kerry campaign and especially Kerry field director Michael H. made sure of that. The national labor organizations, especially the SEIU, had sympathetic leaders but they themselves are increasingly estranged from their own grassroots. And finally, the official field organization (in contrast to the extraordinary blog-base grassroots field network) of the Dean campaign was incompetent. The Iowa director was a party hack with no sense of how to manage the organization, the governor kept Joe Trippi from firing her and taking over until too late. New Hampshire was quite effective, but could not hold after Iowa.

Blogs cannot at this time be a sensorium (“that is how it is, today, December….). The owners of the sensorium–Rupert Murdock, etc. are not going to let their hold go away easily. Blog and web-based news organizations may be able to approach sensorium status in some socieities, for example Ohmynews in South Korea, where broadband access is nearly universal, and where traditional news outlets are weak and illegitimate. But becoming the sensorium in the United States? Hmmm.

Blogs are not the action arm of global society, either. While there are grassroots action networks, such as that constructed for ACT by Zephyr Teachout for the 2004 election, or by those associated with the Dean campaign in conjuction with MeetUp and other platforms, these organizations, while impressive, pale when confronted by more established groups. And those who control large organizations, like the Democratic party, continually seek to strengthen themselves. While I am all for online-based grassroots groups, I think that real action, whether to elect a president or stop a genocide, takes flesh and blood on the ground.

On the other hand, BLOGGERS are becoming smarter, more reflective, and more strategic.

My prediction? Blogs will not take over the world. But people trained in the blog world, supported in it, and empowered by it may become the next generation of leaders of the media as well as the action organizations of the world…

Blogs will be blogs, but bloggers may become the most effective transformational leaders, and may take over the world…

best, jim

1 comment

  • Brace yourselves …
    On the other hand, BLOGGERS are becoming smarter, more reflective, and more strategic. My prediction? Blogs will not take over the world. But people trained in the blog world, supported in it, and empowered by it may become the next

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