Here at Web 2.0 Expo the conversation is mostly directed at business aspects of this phenomenon – how to use social networks to improve your business, how to harness collective intelligence etc. Most of the people here are from companies who know that there is a huge cultural shift happening and if they don't get to grips with it, their businesses, and therefore their own personal situations, will suffer one way or another. As in the early days of the railways, they are all anxious to understand exactly how fast this engine can go and what will be the consequences if they stand in front of it. Our lunch table yesterday included people from a bank, an insurance company, a data company, a librarian, and me.
This diversity reminds me how much the business focus of this event would alienate many academics, who would see the pursuit of monetization as a demeaning chase for filthy lucre. But look beyond the balance sheets to the enormous cultural shift that has been identified by the very people at this event. Isn’t it interesting that the Web 2.0 social phenomenon was identified by a publisher and businessman, Tim O’Reilly, rather than an academic? Indeed, I believe that even the call to ‘harness collective intelligence’ came from him. What’s going on? Isn’t collective intelligence supposed to be the preserve of academics?! Unfortunately however too many of us are busy standing in front of the train and expecting it to derail before it reaches us, dislodged presumably by the obstacle of commercialism stuck to the line. Well, it may derail at some point, but that won’t be any time soon.
Academics might like to note that O’Reilly conferences usually offer good discounts to educationalists. I really recommend attending at least one of these events so you can be a witness and participant in this enormous cultural shift. But there’s a problem – even with the discounts, academics can’t afford to come. What we need is an education strand where we can give papers. If we give papers, our institutions will pay for us to come. Even better if the papers are refereed and published afterwards. Without the chance to give papers, we’re forced to stand on the sidelines, and valuable benefits are lost.
I know that academia and business are not natural bedfellows and they need some hand-holding to bring them together. But transliteracy and Web 2.0 are the perfect concepts around which to do it, and if we can achieve that the resulting collective intelligence would be ground-breaking and enormous.