Journalism Politics Technology

Horizontal vs. vertical structure: MSN talks Occupy Wall Street and human groups

Dude! Excerpt!

Just wanted to flag an interesting article on a dreary, damp Saturday evening. MSNBC has an interesting discussion on the Occupy Wall Street protests happening all across the country – and in New York, apparently demonstrating in Times Square at the moment – and how they’re able to get things done in a seemingly leaderless organization.

The question is correctly framed as not a question of leaderless vs. well-organized structures, but as between horizontal, collaborative structures and vertical, hierarchical structures. Then it kind of veers off, in my opinion.

The article comes hearbreakingly close to discussing the collaborative process that happens everywhere in the computing world that I think also bears on the discussion. Open Source software developers will always claim this as our high ground: that we cooperate on something that costs nothing. We like to tell you its because we have a moral imperative to maintain the free flow of information, but really, its mostly because most of us were fucking broke when we started out.

ASP developers, Java developers and professionals of all kinds cooperate online all day long, even if their chosen specialties cost money. Not to mention things like Quora, where you can get all manner of arcane questions answered for free. And where you can also have the pleasure of being complimented for a solution you gave. You can also just shout your question out over Twitter, Google or Facebook and find a ready answer in someone you already know. This free flow of information – from the mundane to the hyper-specific – freely and regularly is changing the way we expect things to come together.

Alas, the article does not ever get into any of that. Instead, it gets pretty pointedly back to the central theme of most journalism on this issue: that if the protesters do not organize better and more centrally, they are doomed to existing solely as angry mobs.

The article in some ways proves its own point about the differences between horizontal and vertical organization. Or rather, it displays some of the same blind spots that many of us seem to have for the benefits of a decentralized model. Instead of digging any deeper, the article just sort of heaves to a tired end on a trope that could have come from any five minute segment of CNN you’ve ever watched.

Vitals – How does a group like Occupy Wall Street get anything done?.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.