strategy+business Winter 2013 : Page 74

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 13 / D I G I T I Z AT I O N 74 new ways, while socialstructing concerns a similar form of reuse through rearrangement. Socialstructing (the word, in its various forms, was coined by Marina Gor-bis, the executive director of the Institute for the Future [IFTF], a venerable nonprofit think tank located in Sili-con Valley) is a way to use connective and computational technologies to bring people together so they can re-structure old ways of doing things and invent new ones. The word socialstructing might or might not en-ter the public vocabulary the way big data has, but the phenomenon is already a significant enabler of collec-tive action. The power of collective action—the force that brought us agriculture, cities, science, capitalism, and democracy, as well as slavery, fascism, and orga-nized warfare—is determined in part by how human beings do or do not collaborate. Now that the Internet has lowered nearly to zero the transaction costs for large numbers of people to com-municate, coordinate, and engage in collective action, a wide variety of social-structed institutions are emerging in diverse fields: citizen science (Foldit), collaborative consumption (Airbnb), crowdsourcing (Genomera), crowdfund-ing (Kickstarter), co-working (the League of Extraordi-nary Coworking Spaces), microventure funding (Kiva .org), and peer-to-peer online learning (P2PU). Socialstructing provides a name for a trend that some of us have been watching emerge for more than a decade. I’ve written about “technologies of coopera-tion.” Yochai Benkler described a new nonmarket form of economic production. Clay Shirky focused on how digital networks lower the barriers to coordinating col-lective action. Rachel Botsman extended the trend into what is now being called “the sharing economy.” Mi-chael Nielsen described how this then-unnamed phe-nomenon was changing the way science is done. Now Marina Gorbis has pulled these strands together in The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstruct-ed World, by pointing out how diverse signals of social production are transforming a wide variety of institu-tions. (Disclaimer: I was a contractor for IFTF, and the book cites my work on online co-learning.) One of IFTF’s forecasting tools is the systematic search for faint signals of change that might not make headlines today, but might portend systemic change in the future. Here, Gorbis details the signals of social-structing in the production of scientific knowledge, in medical and pharmaceutical research, in finance, in education, and in governance—arenas that affect most people’s lives. Some of the author’s examples are eye-opening and compellingly credible, particularly the chapters on citizen science, sharing economies, and online peer learning. I was less convinced that the real changes Gorbis identifies in the fields of finance and governance will soon transform some of the biggest and most powerful bureaucratic institutions in the world, but certainly these fields are ripe for disruption. Citizen science isn’t for the future—significant sci-ence is being conducted by communities of amateurs right now. Players of the online game Foldit have al-ready identified important structural information about the protein protease, which is key to understanding strategy+business strategy+business issue issue 73 73 best books 2013 digitization The power of collective action—the force that brought us agriculture as well as fascism—is determined in part by how human beings collaborate. HIV and the immune system. Hundreds of thousands of Galaxy Zoo participants have helped astronomers identify hundreds of millions of galaxies. Biocurious .org, a citizen-science biology organization, brought the price of an essential DNA sequencing machine down from US$10,000 to $600. Professional scientists aren’t going to disappear, but they are being aided and abetted by millions of citizens with powerful personal comput-ers, broadband connections, and socialstructing plat-forms. Healthcare is ripe for socialstructing. It is already enabling patients to not only take a more active role in their disease treatment, but also conduct their own research. For instance, by following established proce-dures in their own experiments and pooling their medi-cal data, patients with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) on PatientsLikeMe, an online community of 120,000, made an educated guess that lithium did not provide relief as had been rumored—18 months before profes-sional medical journals confirmed that finding. What some call using social capital, enlisting the help of others to accomplish tasks outside formal insti-

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