March 26, 2021

An Appeal to the Hive Mind (Ironically Enough)

Attention conservation notice: Asking for help finding something that you don't know about, that you don't care about, and that a bad memory might have just confabulated.

I have a vivid memory of reading, in the 1990s, an online discussion (maybe just two people, maybe as many as four) about what online fora, search engines, the Web, "agents", etc., were doing to the way people acquire and use knowledge, and indeed to what we mean by "knowledge". My very strong impression is that one of the participants was linked somehow with the MIT Media Lab, and taking a very strong social-constructionist line (unsurprisingly, given that affiliation). At some point the discussion turned to her experiences with an online forum related to a hobby of hers (tropical fish? terraria?). The person I'm thinking of said something like, the consensus of that forum just were knowledge about \$HOBBY. One of her interlocutors made an objection on the order of, why do you trust those random people on the Internet to have any idea what they're talking about? To which the reply was, basically, come on, who'd just make stuff up about \$HOBBY?

I have (genuinely!) thought of this exchange often in the 20-plus years since I read it. But when I recently tried to find it again, to check my memory and to cite it in a work-in-glacial-progress, I've been unable to locate it. (The fact that I don't recall any names of the participants, or the venue, doesn't help.) I am prepared to learn that, because this is something I've thought of often, my mind has re-shaped it into a memorable anecdote, but I'd still like to see what this started from. Any leads readers could provide would be appreciated.

Update, the next day

The hive mind Lucy Keer (with an assist from Mike Traven) delivers:

Specifically, the seed around which this story nucleated in my memory may have been a January 1996 piece by Prof. Bruckman in Technology Review — it has the right content (sci.aquaria!), the right date, my father subscribed to TR and I'd even have been visiting my parents when that issue was current. Only it's not a conversation between multiple people but a solo-author essay, it's not primarily about the social aspects of knowledge but about how to find congenial on-line communities and make (or re-make) ones that don't suck (the lost wisdom of the Internet's early Bronze Age), and contains nothing like "who'd just make stuff up about \$HOBBY?" (In short: Bartlett (1932) meets Radio Yerevan.)

More positively, I very much look forward to reading Bruckman's book (there's an excerpt/precis available on her website).

Actually, "Dr. Internet" Is the Name of the Monster's Creator; The Collective Use and Evolution of Concepts

Posted at March 26, 2021 12:32 | permanent link

Three-Toed Sloth