I first came across Steven Johnson in his book Emergence around a decade ago now and was instantly captured by both the topic and his style of writing. So I’m really looking forward to his latest book about networks and how powerful they are for society.
It talks about how peer networks have delivered tremendous improvements in fields such as journalism, communities, governance and management.
A review in the Guardian notes that the book “is a call to support what he presents as a new kind of politics, based neither on traditional left-wing ideas of big government nor traditional right-wing ideas of big markets.” The Guardian‘s Oliver Burkeman writes:
in the world of commerce, the book shows, collaborative peer networks outperform free-market arrangements all the time. Johnson celebrates a resurgence of interest in “prize-backed challenges”, funded by governments or private individuals, similar to the one that famously led to the solving of the problem of longitude. The best hopes for everything from a cure for AIDS to viable private spaceflight may lie in such schemes. It is a central premise of such challenges that the resulting knowledge be shared, so that the network’s “hive mind” can implement and improve it. The pure market approach would be to protect it with a patent. This is a key distinction between libertarians and peer progressives: many libertarians love patents. “All of that emphasis on freedom,” Johnson writes, “vanishes when intellectual property is on the table.”
It should be a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in networks or communities. You can find out a bit more about it in this video from the publishers.