I’ve just read an advance copy of Don Tapscott and Anthony D Williams’s Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, and it’s been a stimulating experience (for those unblessed by review copies, they also have a blog). With detailed reference to sites like google booksearch, facebook, wikipedia, del.icio.us, flickr, digg and youtube, Tapscott and Williams argue that a newly collaborative economic paradigm is upon us, and that in this new era the model is one not of consumption but of prosumption:
…where customers participate in the creation of products in an active and ongoing way. As in Second Life, the consumer actually co-innovates and coproduces the products they consume. In other words, customers do more than customize or personalize their wares; they can also self-organize to create their own.
It’s heady stuff, and I’ve enjoyed the book a lot, but it also left me with a sense of tonal déjà vu (I’m thinking especially of Freakonomics, here.) With its jaunty roll call of case studies, ranging from the Library of Alexandria to Ford’s mass-production methods and the triumph of Wikipedia itself, I couldn’t shake the sense that the past was being somewhat indiscriminately plundered for its prefigurings of the present; and that, at root, the authors were not very interested in being right about exactly why things happen, but were extremely interested in showing that they’re right about the way things are going to be.
Simple is not automatically wrong (although I winced at a reference to the Library of Alexandria containing Socrates’s writings), but I do find that this kind of breathless futurology lacks a sense of several crucial ingredients in human nature—largely on the darker side. Books like this, of course, set out to be sources of inspiration rather than of final answers, and Wikinomics succeeds admirably here. But there is less that is new under the sun than many would like to believe, and more that is intractably difficult than any would wish.