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Hive Mentality or Individual Worker Bees? (Phase 1 and 2)

// Posted by on 04/13/2012 (1:21 PM)

My final blog can be viewed here. The background information posted below is also overviewed on my blog.

 

For my final project, I decided to explore further the idea set forth by Jane McGonigal in her Read more

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My final blog can be viewed here. The background information posted below is also overviewed on my blog.

 

For my final project, I decided to explore further the idea set forth by Jane McGonigal in her TedTalk “Gaming can make a better world.” When watching her talk for the first time, I found myself considering our current United States culture and society today and whether or not these problem-solving ideas were applicable to all issues, no issues, or just some. We are all taught to be individuals from a young age: getting ahead is about individual goals and individual skills, and the goals or aspirations of a group mentality are not focused on when being taught how to problem solve. This issue kept coming back into my head, and I began to apply it to greater walks of our society. I found myself wondering if individualism was so ingrained in us that it could never be replaced, or if a movement towards collaborating with others was possible. I thought about these issues on small and large scales, whether it be from the teachings of a kindergarten class to our economic system as a whole, how it functions, and what values it promotes in us as citizens and as workers. I wanted to explore whether implementing a system of teaching young children to work collaboratively instead of individually from an early stage would be beneficial later on, or if there are some issues which are simply too polarizing to be solved by groupthink and all that could be done with it already is. To explore these issues, I searched further into what McGonigal has published about her theories and explored the frameworks of those she has drawn from in her exploration.

 

Throughout my search, I came across (once again) one of the most exciting examples of collaboration used to solve a major issue to-date. McGonigal introduces the idea of collaborative intelligence in her case study Why I Love Bees as a way of demonstrating how problems are solved with group work. Collaborative intelligence could be applied to solve anything: but could it? An example of success is the scientists who, after grappling with a problem that had stumped them about AIDS for 10 years, decided to develop a program called Foldit which allowed users to download, play, and solve problems they put in front of them. The users took this program and solved the 10-year battle scientists had been waging in just 10 days. (More about this here). This is one of the most perfect examples of collaborative intelligence: gamers came together, formed groups, and solved a major, previously un-solveable issue. After exploring the Foldit website further, I came across their “Groups” section. The groups are ranked from highest-scoring to lowest, and each has a profile that describes their methods and ways of working as sort of an advertisement to join. One of the top groups is called “Contenders” and its mission statement reads: “We are a team of like-minded individuals, interested in discovering new methods and philosophies about folding, and doing things a little differently. There is no hierarchy; we have no dedicated soloists or evolvers or even a team ‘captain’. We possess a range of experience and ability, and recognize that each of us can ‘bring something to the table’. Encouraging discussion and questions, all are free to express themselves. We play our soloist games our own way; but if someone finds sudden success, it’s posted for the benefit of the group, detailing what was done to get there.” Collaborative intelligence at its finest: having no “dedicated soloists” and recognizing that “each of us can ‘bring something to the table’.” In a collaborative group, “all are free to express themselves” and one person finding success is “posted for the benefit of the group.” Below is a video about Foldit, who uses it, how they use it, and why it was developed:

 

 

I was sad to realize that, while reading the Contenders mission statement, I found myself a little surprised that people advertise working this way. I’ve considered many times the fact that, when in the “real world,” group collaboration is essential to success, and the benefit of whoever you are working for is the group goal to be achieved. But it has been so ingrained in us from the beginning of our schooling that collaboration just isn’t the way to get ahead; you get ahead individually, not moving forward in a hive. You get the promotion, you and your 6 coworkers do not. I had this mindset in full force when I read McGonigal’s article “SuperGaming: Ubiquitous Play and Performance for Massively Scaled Community.” Supergaming, McGonigal says, consists of “experiments in massively scaled, public collaboration” which create “an emerging constellation of network practices that are both ludic, or game-like, and spectacular--that is, intended to generate an audience.” Supergaming “Harnesses the play of distributed individuals in a high-performance problem-solving unit,” or the “hive mentality” set forth by Kelley in Why I Love Bees. McGonigal overviews arguments set forth by Clay Shirky (hey, that name sounds farmiliar…) in an essay he wrote called “Communities, Audiences, and Scale.” Shirky argues that these supergames create massively scaled communities which collapse due to the inability of humans to maintain more than a certain number of connections with others. Shirky argues that once this number is exceeded, the community becomes an audience, which is “typified by a one-way relationship between sender and receiver, and by the disconnectino of its members from one another- a one-to-many pattern.” Communities, however, are set up so that people “send and receive messages, and the members of a community are connected to one another, not just to some central outlet- a many-to-many pattern.” Shirky argues against the ability of these new supergames to create massively scaled communities. He writes, “Because growth in group size alone is enough to turn a community into an audience, social software, no matter what its design, will never be able to create a group that is both large and densely interconnected.” Massively scaled group collaboration as a way of problem-solving, therefore, is not looking so good.

 

For the next phase of my project, I will explore McGonigal’s theoretical foundation even further and apply it to our society in ways I’ve come up with throughout my research. I will continue my academic search of articles on education and how groupwork is both useful and detrimental and come up with an answer to the question of whether or not it would be beneficial to implement programs to promote the hive mentality in youths. I will explore the question of whether or not those who tend to play games are just more open to group work than those who do not: is it a psychological difference? Is there no difference at all? Is McGonigal’s suggestion that we spend 21 billion hours a week playing games going to improve the collaborative efforts we’ve already learned from games, or are some issues still on the table to be solved just too polarizing for collaborative efforts in coming up with solutions? How is the digital media that we use today making this movement towards collaboration easier? Is it potentially making it more difficult? Have we developed types of technology that make it more possible on a massive scale? Does collaborative intelligence put the world on the verge of an “epic win,” as McGonigal puts it? Will all our faces look like this in a few years, when we discover that working collaboratively really can save the world?

 


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