Void of virtue or font of wisdom?

Henry David Thoreau is dead and probably for the best as I suspect that were he alive today the vacuousness of modern America would’ve probably been the death of him. Yet even from the grave one line of his essay, Civil Disobedience, questions one of the optimistic tenets of our times. “There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men,” wrote Thoreau, who withheld taxes to protest slavery and the U.S. invasion of Mexico. But perhaps Thoreau is wrong. Perhaps technology has changed everything, including human nature, because we now celebrate The Wisdom of the Crowds, the concept that has become a book and an a belief.

Here is how the publisher explains The Wisdom of the Crowds:

“In this endlessly fascinating book, New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki explores a deceptively simple idea that has profound implications: large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.

This is New Age gospel. Open the conversation. Get the group involved. It’s democratic. It’s good business. The world must be in better shape than the curmudgeons suppose because the better future is a group effort that the wiser crowd is inventing and the disintermediated expert cannot understand. Hmmmn. Well, how to argue with that? Except perhaps by suggesting that human nature does not change and that most people — we have now broaded the body politic beyond the men-folk — change only grudgingly and after some determined minority has made the status quo unacceptably uncomfortable. The Wisdom of the Crowds may really be a Poll of the Popular because virtue is difficult to define, achieve and compute.

Nevertheless New Media do give small groups an unprecedented ability to popularize ideas — which will be deemed wise when and if theirGoogle page-rank climbs, n’est-ce pas?

Speaking of wise crowds, Paid Content points to a new study by Arbitron and Edison Media Research that suggests consumers want video on demand, and not on someone else’s program schedule. Download the report summary for all the details on when, where and how consumers want it.