The Global Brain on Shareware
Sharism will transform the world into an emergent Social Brain: a networked hybrid of people and software. We are Networked Neurons connected by the synapses of Social Software. –Isaac Mao
The Global Brain is wired for sharing. Social media links us to that collective neurology. The very architecture of the system which lights up our daily screens draws its core from collaboration and shareware. Creative Commons, the non-profit organization developed in 2001 by Lawrence Lessig, Hal Ebelson, and Eric Eldred, in collaboration with now-defunct Center for the Public Domain,
enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.
Creative Commons licensing encourages generosity, remixing and collaboration.
The impact of Creative Commons projects like TedTalks, Khan Academy and recent education initiatives like Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff series demonstrate that not only do online users want to learning about quantum physics, public policy and design innovation, they are more than inspired to share the links and the video embeds with their online communities.
Early advocates of Creative Commons include Harvard economics scholar Yochai Benkler; economist Elinor Ostrom (1934-2012, co-winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Economics and first woman to receive the honor); and Chinese blogger, activist and entrepreneur, Isaac Mao, who has openly challenged the Chinese government on censorship. His seminal essay, “Sharism: A Mind Revolution” operates from the neuro-scientific premise that creative sharing is encoded in the human genome.
…our brain supports sharing in its very system-nature. This has profound implications for the creative process. Whenever you have an intention to create, you will find it easier to generate more creative ideas if you keep the sharing process firmly in mind.
The mid-90s rise of the Internet followed by the more recent emergence of social media has changed the way millions communicate, transmit messages and live-stream news. Citizen Journalists have access to new forms of political activism and opinion-swaying which now impact governments and populations from Cairo to Wisconsin. We are crowd-sourcing our own history through twitter hashtags, Tumblr blogs, Flickr albums, Facebook status updates and online petitions.
Shared Knowledge Engenders More Knowledge
Since 2001, Wikipedia has provided a forum for a non-profit Global Brain database. As an open source interface that anyone can edit, the site now houses over 4 million entries in English and 22 million overall. Despite the hacking risks of hacking, doctored corporate biographies, and the recently-revealed gender imbalances in Wikipedia authoring, this invaluable tool outstrips the Encyclopedia Britannica by mega miles of clickable factoids. As a collaborative concept, Wikipedia exemplifies millennial shareware, providing a means for specialists to extend their knowledge into the public sphere, often anonymously, without expectation of payment or acknowledgement. With over 600 million visitors per year, the site has outstripped other on-line reference sites in terms of daily visitation and has become part of the public tool set.
In this clip from 2006, Harvard Economist Yochai Benkler, Author of The Wealth of Networks discusses Internet economies of information and influence.
The process for information donation and knowledge crafting at this level is part of globalizing free speech through a form of Cyber-Democracy that has less and less to do with physical borderlines. The concept that all are welcome to contribute expands on the rights of citizens to express themselves and willingly share resources of information. As this recent iteration of the “Social Media Revolution” series acknowledges, “if Facebook were a country, it’d be the world’s third largest.” We have shared ourselves into a Global Brain exceeding geographic boundaries.
With corporate manipulation of mainstream messaging increasingly acknowledged, it’s no wonder that truth-seekers would look to an open source network of “John Doe/Jane Doe” researchers rather than trusting traditional print sources like newspapers. This search for truth led to the rogue power of Wikileaks and the viral impact of its “Collateral Damage” footage, and also to the explosive implosion of #Kony2012‘s viral video campaign.
The generosity of images and ideas and blog texts (which can usually easily be copied, cut and pasted) is a keystone of the success of the “pass it on and share” fever of the social networking system. It’s free. We’re free. You’re invited. The inclusiveness greatly contrasts the clique mentality of a stratified society, but depends upon access to high speed connections and the computer equipment drivers, which is where the shareware “utopia” begins and ends. For ideas and creativity of the global brain to be truly maximized, access must be extended to far reaches of the economic spectrum.
The info-layering of the Internet mimics video editing verbs with Reverse, Rewind, and Still Framing a part of blogospheric Channel-surfing, a hypertextual form of viewing in bits and pieces, a pastiche of visual meaning. We click and screen-swipe faster than the blink of an eye. Internet users have been participating in the visual culture of atemporal remix montage of daily information retrieval, which rewires synapses, and may well be changing our brain architecture as it plays to our fundamental neurology. Our brains, designed for shareware, our storytelling continues to evolve in collaboration.
(For a good overview of the history of Creative Commons, the evolution of copyleft and its pivotal role in contributing to shareware culture, see The Viral Spiral by David Bollier, available as a free PDF.) And for some fabulous Remixes, see Pop Culture Pirate‘s takes on pop culture!