The wisdom of crowds has become a modern motif, a “cultural mantra” adopted with zeal across party and discipline lines, Jonathan V. Last observes for In Character. Conservatives clicked with its endorsement of the free market; liberals connected with its egalitarian appeal. “And nearly everyone associated with the Internet glommed on because they understood that it was, in large part, an exaltation of the new medium that placed the World Wide Web near the center of an entire world view,” he writes.
However many good things have come from crowd-sourcing, though, Last cautions that we devalue the wisdom of individuals at our own peril. Sometimes, for example, crowds are fooled: Enron’s stock was valued at over $40/share just months before the company declared bankruptcy, he notes, proffering the parallel tale of six Cornell business school students who, studying Enron for a research project in 1998, “concluded that the company was a house of cards.”
What appears to be crowd consensus can also be skewed by a handful of vociferous or aggressive members. Those rating systems on sites like Amazon.com? “New research confirms what some may already suspect: Those ratings can easily be swayed by a small group of highly active users,” Kristina Grifantini reports for Technology Review.
For Last, the real loss is creativity: “Even if crowds can reach wise decisions, they don’t create,” he writes. “Genius and inspiration are the province of individuals.”