There is no denying that the use of the internet has made the world a smaller place. A small company in one part of the world can make its domain expertise available on a global basis by having the right web presence in place. Possible customers can see its capabilities and get in touch, broadening the company’s reach, and therefore market.
To this extent, we have a global marketplace, and large and small companies can mix just as they would in any village or town market. Logistics still remain a real-world problem, but electronic goods, know-how, and goods that can be shipped cheaply all apply here.
But is this the total comparison that can be made between the internet-connected world and a small village? In many cases, I feel the answer has to be “unfortunately, not”.
Village life can often be summed up as having a community where everyone knows what everyone else is up to, and where there is a lot of talk about what this could possibly mean to others. Facebook and Twitter have taken the village community from a few hundred to the hundreds of millions — what someone saw someone else doing is now capable of being spread around the world in short time.
The art of Chinese whispers is also widespread — in a village, the chains are relatively short but can still end up with bad misunderstandings about what is actually happening. With hundreds of millions of people capable of chatting about areas from which they are several times removed, misunderstandings are bound to be rife, and can escalate into major issues when the main way of dealing with them is 140 characters or a swift poke in the Facebooks.
Then we have crowd-sourcing. A wonderful idea based on the ‘fact’ that a larger pool of resource will always lead to a better decision being made. Very clever people have discussed this at length, and have done research that demonstrates that the final answer received from crowd sourcing does tend to be better than the answer received from a smaller group. However, the research does tend to have its faults. Most research on crowd-sourcing has been focused on situations where there is a defined “correct” answer based on fact at the end — the ‘village show’-type competition of estimating how many sweets there are in the jar, or guessing the weight of the cake are the sort of things that are used, and the average of all responses tends to be closer to the real answer than is obtained from a smaller sample.
But, if a different subject is chosen, what sort of response would be obtained? What if you were to ask something like, “Are there aliens walking amongst us, and are they after our intelligence?” or, “How did JFK REALLY die?” Would crowd-sourcing give us a better, more reasoned response than we would get over a pint at the local bar, or is it more likely that the global nutters and weirdos would take over the discussions and we’d all end up wearing tin foil hats and calling for the indictment of all of the FBI for presidenticide?
The idea of a global village is great — it offers all the convenience of everything being close together and easy to get at. The problem with a global village is that it does seem to offer everything else that a village offers — the sniping, the gossip, the misunderstanding and everything else that goes with it.
But, the biggest problem is that it can also give us the village idiot. Unfortunately, this will not be just the one idiot for the village, but a straight-line correlation (hopefully not an exponential one) where the internet just leads to a lot of very loud people with little real value overwhelming the value that those with real domain expertise can offer. There is a strong need to filter the rubbish out — the real value often lies in those who are less vocal.
Image credit: samsaundersleeds (flickr)