Interview with Yale law professor Yochai Benkler
Q: How did you conceive the notion of peer production from such seemingly disparate activities?
A: I had been looking at commons-based behaviors in unlicensed radio spectrum and in intellectual property, and their important role in innovation. I was uncomfortable with the notion that this was purely a phenomenon of software or musicians. That doesn't explain Wikipedia. That doesn't really explain Slashdot [the peer-written and -reviewed tech news site]. That doesn't explain why Google was so phenomenally successful.
Q: What qualities do those things have in common?
A: [They show that] the economic role of social behavior is increasing. It used to be that if you said, "Here, this is interesting, why don't you read this?" it was primarily social. When you take the exact same behavior and plug it into Google's Page Rank algorithm, you actually get a discrete economic output that increases welfare in the economy overall -- even though you continue to have a certain social interaction there as well.
Q: Why is peer production happening now, and what technologies are enabling it?
A: With the steam engine, the archetype of the Industrial Revolution, we moved to industries where the physical capital was relatively concentrated. You had to have financial capital in order to enable effective collaboration between individuals.
What we're seeing now is cheap processors, which put computation on our desktops and in our laps, cheap storage, and ubiquitous communications. It's this combination of a low-cost personal computer and the Internet...that allows this aggregation of behavior. Things that would normally just dissipate in the air as social gestures come to have some persistence as economic products. This departs radically from everything we've seen since the Industrial Revolution.
Consider a small thought-experiment: Whenever you see the word "information" -- as in the strategic importance of managing information, or the importance of timely information in solving problems, or the need to make substantial investments in information technology in order to compete in the cutthroat world of global competition -- substitute the word "relationship."
Ultimately, the issue boils down to value: How do organizations, markets and individuals create and manage value? The fact is, people -- not information -- create the value that matters, and information is merely one of many ingredients that people use. Consequently, the real future of digital technologies and networks rests with the architects of great relationships -- not just the architects for timely bits and bytes of information. People who believe in the hype of the Information Age are -- pun intended -- badly misinformed.
Companies that persist in viewing offshoring too narrowly will almost surely destroy significant economic value. The real winners will be those companies with a new perspective. They'll see that global success requires them to reassess the fundamentals of their business strategies and master a new set of management mechanisms that includes dynamic specialization, process-network orchestration, and productive friction. In this way, global success can not only be achieved, but also sustained.
Jane Jacobs: Cities are the chief motors of economies. You can't talk about economies without talking, at least obliquely, about cities. Any human settlement is an economic equivalent to a local ecosystem. Just as ecology is the economy of nature. I've just been looking at the same thing from the opposite point of view�”the nature of economies.
Stewart Brand: Presumably that steps you right up to the question of global economy?
Jane Jacobs: Yes. The nature of economies comes to that. But people want these prescriptions. You can't prescribe for a global economy any more than you can get a handle on prescribing for a global ecosystem. Also, if you get too abstract about these things they become meaningless. You can't put everything in one ball of wax without it becoming abstract.
Services like Craigslist have local incarnations -- Craigslist New York, say -- which are essentially convenient abstractions of geography in order to control the nature of the content. That's ideal for selling stuff, finding a job, or renting an apartment -- for transactional interactions. Ten years after Netscape went public, I can still get a little thrill at how easy it's become to find out that someone in Sydney needs a rideshare, or a date, but some of the limitations of networks unanchored to geography are also more apparent. I and millions like me can look at this board from anywhere on the globe, and the chances that I'm going to connect with someone around the corner are correspondingly small.
From finding out why the nearest laundromat has shut down (big local quality of life issue, trust me!) to why the cops were on the block last night, from where the good yard sale is to changes in local zoning, to simply making a few friends right nearby, there are all sorts of down-to-earth reasons it might be good to shift attention from the cross-continental, trans-oceanic network for a bit, and get better connected with the local neighborhood.
We are living in times of intense change. In any kind of system or organization, the more components the system has, the faster those individual components are changing, and the more integrated the components are, the harder it is to predict how that system or organization will evolve into the future. The system becomes "emergent," a term used to describe highly interactive, complex systems whose behavior -- indeed, whose very nature -- is essentially unpredictable.
It is not hard to see how our world, its institutions, perhaps even our personal lives are becoming increasingly "emergent", that is, hard to predict. Technology is changing at a prodigious rate, new products and services are born almost every day, and to top it all off, ever since the Internet hit in the mid '90s, we are living in an increasingly interconnected, global world. If your business and/or your life feel more chaotic . . . . it is because they are. (Or, at least, they look chaotic through the lens of our familiar paradigms.)
In decentralized, emergent communities, the community archive defines the community over time. Therefore, designers of such communities need to pay attention to the processes by which these archives emerge. The ongoing debate over folksonomy provides us with a public record of decentralized archiving strategies that do and don't work.
"What I say to business leaders is "understand that your sector and the government sector are derivatives, not primary institutions." There is no example in history where you first create a government or establish a market, then you create a community. It's always the other way around, although we have lost sight of that lesson. First people establish communities, then they create social exchange, shared metaphors, shared meetings in life. Only when the social capital is well developed do communities create markets for trade and establish governments."
Was passiert mit unserer Identität, wenn die Grenzen im "globalen Dorf" sich aufzulösen beginnen? Und wie wirkt sich das auf die Psyche und die seelische Gesundheit der Menschen aus? Diese Fragen stehen im Mittelpunkt des diesjährigen Kongresses "Psychotherapie und Gesellschaft", der Ende Juni in Weimar stattfand.
"Viele Menschen empfinden derzeit vor allem die ökonomischen Folgen der Globalisierung als eine existenzielle Bedrohung", erläutert Prof. Dr. Bernhard Strauß, Leiter des Instituts für Medizinische Psychologie am Universitätsklinikum Jena und wissenschaftlicher Leiter des Kongresses. "In einer über das Internet vernetzten Welt mit durchlässigen Grenzen, verschwimmenden nationalen Identitäten und einem von den Zwängen der Globalisierung geprägten Arbeitsmarkt verlieren traditionelle Lebensentwürfe immer mehr ihre Gültigkeit", so Strauß weiter. "Damit entfallen aber auch die Grundfesten, auf die wir unsere Lebenspläne bauen. Das kann zu Verunsicherungen führen und in der Folge auch zu psychischen Störungen wie Angsterkrankungen oder Depressionen". Doch was die einen als bedrohlich empfinden, sehen andere durchaus als Chance. Strauß: "Für manche stellen die verschwindenden Grenzen und variablen Lebensmodelle, die Vermischung der Kulturen und Religionen gerade eine Bereicherung dar". Daher wird auf der Weimarer Tagung auch beides - die positiv wie auch die negativ empfundenen Folgen der Globalisierung und deren Auswirkungen auf die Seele - thematisiert.
"Grenzen - Psychotherapie und Identität in Zeiten der Globalisierung"
2. Weimarer Kongress " Psychotherapie und Gesellschaft", 30. Juni bis 3. Juli 2005, Weimar