Thinking about the future of information

This week in iMedia land, we’ve started reading Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks.  It’s a great comparison to McGonigal’s Reality is Broken.  For one thing, the style is completely the opposite due to their different backgrounds. Benkler is a lawyer and political scientist at Yale so his tone is very academic, as opposed to McGonigal’s game-designer-meets-public-speaker persona.  I appreciate this style because it makes for a better argument.  Benkler uses some of the same examples that McGonigal did (Wikipedia, MMOGs, SETI@home, Folding@home) but the way he presents information and his argument is so much more credible to me.  Beyond his academic style, Benkler is relying on  widely accepted theories and concepts to make his arguments.  For instance the second chapter relies on a lot of economic concepts or markets, goods, and actors.  As opposed to McGonigal’s assertions (though she based some of her ideas about games and motivations in theories) Benkler relies on well-respected theories that merit the peer-review status his book holds.

I don’t want to sound like I’m continually knocking McGonigal, there is just a very noticeable difference between the work she produced as a PhD. holder and the work Benkler produce.  The interesting thing about these two books is they are both proposing a future in which information technology relies on volunteer participation to write and review code, upload and store data, and where people must network to accomplish great things.  Only Benkler has yet to mention “gamification,” and according to the index will not use this word, though he mentions games on 3 separate pages.  McGonigal really limits her audience by targeting gamification as the way of the future, but since that’s her background and area of interest, it suits her needs well enough.

Thus far I’m really impressed by Benkler (if you hadn’t already guessed) and I’m interested in our next section “Social Ties-Networking Together.”  Though I have to wonder if the information economy can really manifest itself outside of academia and the online/software world.  As Benkler discusses in chapter 2, copyrights are really holding a lot of sectors back from this potential future of free or open source information, and so I wonder what it would take for overcome our preoccupation with ownership and making money off ideas.  We will see I suppose!

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