Steven Johnson has an interesting and insightful take on the ant analogy in the “emergent democracy” conversation.
To me, when you’re talking about emergent democracy in the online world, the equivalent of the ant is not the individual human, it’s the software. The atoms of human action are indeed incredibly sophisticated ones, but the atoms of software that enables those actions to connect in new ways are much simpler. It’s more like: “follow this link, connect this page to other pages that share links, look for patterns in the links.”
The software ants follow simple rules to find and gather the patterns created by human decisions and human actions.
I like this. It’s an example of the “Google principle”. The Google algorithm is great, not because the computer determines which web pages are important, but because the computer gathers and adds up millions of pieces of information about which pages humans think are important.