A blog by George Engel

Rise of Collaboration

In this video, Howard Rheingold speaks of changing culture and economies based on the advent of new technologies.  He mentions the shift from nomadic to agrarian cultures, stating how the advent of the alphabet introduced an elite group in society.  Then, with the advent of the printing press, literacy was allowed to spread, opening doors for religious reformation, governmental reformation, and scientific reformation. Now, with communication technologies that can reach anyone in the world instantaneously at any time or place, society is changing again. Rheingold argues that this is bringing about the rise of new forms of collaboration in industry and in life. However, a question must be asked here. Is this new form of collaboration in industry and economics from a sense of altruism or a sense of self-interest? Rheingold makes it clear that much of the collaboration that is apparent in industry occurs out of self-interest. IBM and others are using more and more open source material and allowing others to develop open source material to foster greater economic gains for themselves.

But what of individuals that participate in community actions that have no economic gain, for example, individuals and groups working together to pose solutions to the BP oil spill cleanup in the Gulf? Or individuals working together to form open source software, open source browsers, or open source email clients? These people seem to work not out of self-interest because they have little to gain from their work, other than some personal sense of satisfaction. One could argue that on some levels, much of humanity works in their own self-interest, yet, as Rheingold mentions, there is a trend among web users to foster collaboration for things greater.

A potential exists for technology to play a profound role in the rise of collaboration. Web apps like Skype and Google Voice, allow for free voice or video conferencing around the world. Simulated worlds like Second Life see users meeting and problem solving dailiy. Could computing apps like Google Docs or wikis open the door to sharing data and editing in real time among collaborative groups.

Internet technology is available to any who seek to collaborate for a common goal. Will that goal be altruistic or in self-interest?

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