Shared Minds

In the last airplane trip (love plane rides for reading), I read Shared Minds by Michael Shrage. The 1990 book, borrowed from Chris Allen, is delightfully prescient in a number of ways.
Going on fifteen years ago, when tools to collaborate electronically were just emerging: gestating in the the research lab, Lotus Notes was just coming to market, and Tim Berners Lee was inventing the web, Shrage described some of the very familiar uses of social software:
* holding a meeting with a digital whiteboard to capture and shape ideas in a meeting, complete with backchannel
* collaborative writing, as we do now with SubEthaEdit and Wiki
* the citation and deep collaboration culture of scientific research
* the metaphor of “shared space” to describe digital tools supporting collaboration
The book also articulates an important distinction between communication and collaboration. Shrage critiques the ideas of Marshall McLuhan and advocates of business communication for focusing on one-way transmission of thoughts and feelings. Somehow, if the speaker can only “communicate” clearly and powerfully enough, the message will get through, and the recipient will follow.
Instead, Shrage describes collaboration as a shared and deeply interactive process of discovering and creating meaning together. Individualistic modern western culture wants to see discovery and achievement as the product of a lone hero, but innovation in science, art and business is a collaborative process.
Perhaps this is what Sunir means by blogging is sadness: the impression that bloggers are each in their own little world, making speeches at each other. (Although this perspective misses the distributed conversation of the blog communities.
Shrage captures the joy of collaboration — elaborating an idea, creating something new, getting something done — when the contributions of the participants are intertwingled.
Given the state of the art at the time, Shrage’s perception of tools was skewed toward the sharing of personal artifacts (shared access to documents), and elaborate research prototypes (wall systems with voice and video). Today, we have the ubiquitous net, and a wide range of tools, build for shared use, to knit together in a situated manner.
It’s really fun to work on bringing more of these ideas into common use, in a culture based on the values that Shrage describes.

One thought on “Shared Minds”

  1. Adina,
    His other book is really good as well called serious play or something like that. I got a copy at half price for a buck ;).

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