How the Internet will (one day) transform government
The open-source world has learned to deal with a flood of new, oftentimes divergent, ideas using hosting services like GitHub – so why can’t governments? In this rousing talk Clay Shirky shows how democracies can take a lesson from the Internet, to be not just transparent but also to draw on the knowledge of all their citizens.
The power of introverts
When I was nine years old, I went off to summer camp for the first time. And my mother packed me a suitcase full of books, which to me seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do. Because in my family, reading was the primary group activity. And this might sound antisocial to you, but for us it was really just a different way of being social. You have the animal warmth of your family sitting right next to you, but you are also free to go roaming around the adventureland inside your own mind. And I had this idea that camp was going to be just like this, but better.
Now in fact, some of our transformative leaders in history have been introverts. I’ll give you some examples. Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Gandhi – all these people described themselves as quiet and soft-spoken and even shy. And they all took the spotlight, even though every bone in their bodies was telling them not to. And this turns out to have a special power all its own, because people could feel that these leaders were at the helm not because they enjoyed directing others and not out of the pleasure of being looked at; they were there because they had no choice, because they were driven to do what they thought was right.
And what I’m saying is that culturally, we need a much better balance. We need more of a yin and yang between these two types. This is especially important when it comes to creativity and to productivity, because when psychologists look at the lives of the most creative people, what they find are people who are very good at exchanging ideas and advancing ideas, but who also have a serious streak of introversion in them.
The moral roots of liberals and conservatives
If you know about this trait, you can understand a lot of puzzles about human behavior, like why artists are so different from accountants. You can predict what kinds of books they like to read, what kinds of places they like to travel to and what kinds of food they like to eat. Once you understand this trait, you can understand why anybody would eat at Applebee’s, but not anybody that you know.
This trait also tells us a lot about politics. The main researcher of this trait, Robert McCrae, says that “Open individuals have an affinity for liberal, progressive, left-wing political views …” They like a society which is open and changing, “… whereas closed individuals prefer conservative, traditional, right-wing views.”
The optimism bias
I’m going to talk to you about optimism – or more precisely, the optimism bias. It’s a cognitive illusion that we’ve been studying in my lab for the past few years, and 80 percent of us have it. It’s our tendency to overestimate our likelihood of experiencing good events in our lives and underestimate our likelihood of experiencing bad events. So we underestimate our likelihood of suffering from cancer, being in a car accident. We overestimate our longevity, our career prospects. In short, we’re more optimistic than realistic, but we are oblivious to the fact.
Tracking our online trackers
But just as the Internet has opened up the world for each and every one of us, it has also opened up each and every one of us to the world. And increasingly, the price we’re being asked to pay for all of this connectedness is our privacy. Today, what many of us would love to believe is that the Internet is a private place; it’s not. And with every click of the mouse and every touch of the screen, we are like Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs of our personal information everywhere we travel through the digital woods. We are leaving our birthdays, our places of residence, our interests and preferences, our relationships, our financial histories, and on and on it goes.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not for one minute suggesting that sharing data is a bad thing. In fact, when I know the data that’s being shared and I’m asked explicitly for my consent, I want some sites to understand my habits. It helps them suggest books for me to read or movies for my family to watch or friends for us to connect with. But when I don’t know and when I haven’t been asked, that’s when the problem arises. It’s a phenomenon on the Internet today called behavioral tracking, and it is very big business.
In fact, there’s an entire industry formed around following us through the digital woods and compiling a profile on each of us. And when all of that data is held, they can do almost whatever they want with it. This is an area today that has very few regulations and even fewer rules. Except for some of the recent announcements here in the United States and in Europe, it’s an area of consumer protection that’s almost entirely naked.