Monday, May 2, 2011

Panel: Are We Heading Toward Collective Intelligence or Collective Neurosis? Collective Attention or Collective ADD?

This session is livecast

Host:  David Nordfors, Executive Director, SCIC, Stanford; Panel: Prof. Clifford Nass, Stanford University (opening speaker);  Nicklas Lundblad Sr Policy Counsel, Head of Public Policy, Google Mountain View;  Elizabeth Filippouli, Founder, Global Thinkers

Smartphones are proliferating worldwide as their prices decline. The mobile internet is omnipresent, the geographical location of every object - including all users - is part of the equation. Many-to-many interactions are occurring in real time. Interaction choice is intelligent, based on acquaintance, likes or dislikes, geographical location, or other data that matches smartphone users. Historic and real-time data, collected by sensor networks, is abundant. Smartphone sensors make individuals part of that sensor network, too. Soon, actuator networks will enable not only remote sensing but remote action.

Journalism--applied observation and thought communicated to others--is being being pushed  ever closer to real-time reporting by huge audiences with special knowledge or local presence. The competition for attention is becoming global in every area of human activity and thought.

We are moving into the attention economy. Information is no longer a scarce commodity. But attention remains scarce. Some business strategists think 'attention transactions' can replace financial transactions as the focus of our economy.

Intelligence or Neurosis?
Edward Munch - the Scream
(with loving apologies. D.N.)
But are the human brain and body built for this type of attention economy? Stanford researchers have found that people bombarded with several streams of electronic information, coming at them in parallel, requiring  multi-tasking, do not pay attention, cannot control their memory or are unable to switch tasks as well as those who prefer to work linearly, or 'series sequential,' completing one task at a time. The attention economy, and the multi-tasking culture, may be detrimental to our intellectual performance. Doug Engelbart, an innovator in many aspects of personal computing and communications, devised the personal computer to 'augment the human intellect.'  But the result may instead augment stress and neurosis.

So far, the attention economy is discussed almost exclusively in terms of microeconomics. The effects on society of collective attention, conversely, are becoming the macroeconomics of the attention economy. Collective attention enables the exercise of collective intelligence, from product or service marketing to national revolutions.

Mass media have been considered agenda-setting. Public attention puts something in the public mind, leading to public decisions after public deliberation, sometimes called crowdsourcing. Now, with modern, real-time mobile social media, the question becomes:  How do we distribute our collective attention in the most competitive, beneficial way?

Studying today's journalism-attention business models, bad news sells better than good news. When everyone is connected all the time, and professional storytellers have incentives to amplify problems, what will be the effects on journalists, journalism and audiences?

Can we find or create business models that bring incentive and strength to constructive stories that help people find new solutions to problems?

Mobile publishing is a medium that increases collective intelligence--our ability to collectively develop new language, share stories and make sense of news. It also increases our ability to become collectively shocked, angry and neurotic. Being connected ever more closely, sharing ever more information, the competition for our collective attention increases. Are we heading toward collective intelligence or collective neurosis?

Read more:

Media multitaskers pay mental price, Stanford study shows. Research by Clifford Nass, Eyal Ophir and Anthony Wagner.

Scaring up and Audience in the Attention Economy. Op-ed by David Nordfors.

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