Distributed Knowledge and the Digital

Natalia Cecire | 22 November 2013
American Studies Association
natalia.cecire@yale.edu | @ncecire

Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (New York: Penguin, 2010).

Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (New York: Penguin, 2010).

F[riedrich] A[ugust] Hayek, "The Use of Knowledge in Society," American Economic Review 35.4 (September 1945): 519-30."

The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form, but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess. The economic problem of society is thus ... a problem of the utilization of knowledge not given to anyone in its totality.
 
     —F. A. Hayek, "The Use of Knowledge in Society"

The marvel is that in a case like that of a scarcity of one raw material, without an order being issued, without more than perhaps a handful of people knowing the cause, tens of thousands of people whose identity could not be ascertained by months of investigation, are made to use the material or its products more sparingly; i.e., they move in the right direction.
 
     —F. A. Hayek, "The Use of Knowledge in Society"

I have deliberately used the word ‘marvel’ to shock the reader out of the complacency with which we often take the working of this mechanism for granted. I am convinced that if it were the result of deliberate human design, and if the people guided by the price changes understood that their decisions have significance far beyond their immediate aim, this mechanism would have been acclaimed as one of the greatest triumphs of the human mind. Its misfortune is the double one that it is not the product of human design and that the people guided by it usually do not know why they are made to do what they do.
 
     —F. A. Hayek, "The Use of Knowledge in Society"

The Market is an artifact, but it is an ideal processor of information. ... It knows more than any individual, and therefore cannot be surpassed as a mechanism of coordination.
 
     —Philip Mirowski, Science-Mart

  • Brockmeier, Joe. “Can Big Data Replace Domain Expertise?” ReadWrite, March 5, 2012. http://readwrite.com/2012/03/05/can-big-data-replace-domain-ex.
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  • Hayek, F. A. “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” The American Economic Review 35, no. 4 (September 1, 1945): 519–530.
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  • Terranova, Tiziana. “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy.” Social Text 18, no. 2 (2000): 33–58.

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