Collective Effervescence and Mass (networked) Synchronicity

Why was Generosity Day such a success?

Sure the message was “sticky”, but there’s more going on here.  I’m beginning to understand in a deeper way how people desire to participate in collective opportunities to create something positive, and our increased ability to create these opportunities.

Throughout the first day of speakers at TED2011, I’m seeing a pattern emerge in a number of talks that touch on the power of the internet to allow us engage in global, connected experiences – sometimes simultaneous in real time (like Generosity Day), and sometimes made simultaneous by the curator.

Eric Whitacre today shared a video that I found deeply touching.  Eric, who is a musician and composer, shared sheet music for a composition he’d written and asked people to record videos of themselves singing one part of the music.  185 people from around the world made usable submissions.  They were, of course, singing asynchronously, but Eric and some friends stitched everything together digitally to create a virtual choir.  What’s so amazing (in addition to the sheer beauty and wonder of the video itself) is the sense of connection the participants felt to each other and to the collective experience.  That, as much as the final product itself, is what Eric created.

Aaron Koblin is also combining mass participation in novel ways, whether through having people sketch parts of massive drawings of sheep, or having Jonny Cash fans from around the world create individual sketches that, when played at eight frames per second, create a powerful, fan-generated tribute to this musical legend.

Tony Salvador is an anthropologist who has studied and experienced numerous mass religious pilgrimages, and he’s found that as people come together, it is impossible to avoid getting caught up in the feeling of “collective effervescence” – impossible not to feel joy and connection just from being in the presence of throngs of people who are having joyous experiences.

There is an increasing power and a potential to use the web to create opportunities for collective experience and collective action, and more than ever there is an opportunity to initiate and curate these experiences in a way that taps into a deep sense of connectedness and being part of something bigger.

People are longing for this sense of connection, and maybe, just maybe, the web gives us the power to make this kind of connection happen in very real ways in the very real world.

Here’s Eric’s beautiful virtual choir.  Enjoy.

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5 Responses to Collective Effervescence and Mass (networked) Synchronicity

  1. Jamie says:

    Perhaps you could respond to Malcolm Gladwell’s piece on the limits of online activism: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=all
    Do you agree with him? If not, how is he wrong?

  2. Some great thoughts here Sasha. I think it all goes back to the idea that, by our very human nature, we love stories.

    As intellectual creatures, we love to hear about how an underdog came out on top, or how an idea was thought up from a cup of spilled coffee, but more than that I strongly believe that we love to be a part of these stories. When we can join in and become a part of a story, in a way it’s like we’re becoming truly immortal, crafting ourselves into a story that others will want to hear about and share!

    Thanks for getting me thinking about this more. :)

  3. Sasha says:

    Tanner, thanks for this. It’s this notion of a deep desire to participate, and the fact that participation can take so many forms, that has me thinking the most. For Generosity Day, the participation was simultaneously totally real and totally virtual….and that did not detract from the experience at all. I find that fascinating.

  4. Sasha says:

    Jamie, I definitely think Gladwell got it wrong. Egypt and Tahir Square…started in some ways by a facebook page.

    I couldn’t hope to be as detailed, as clear, or as persuasive as Maria Papova was on this one. Here’s the link: http://changeobserver.designobserver.com/entry.html?entry=19008

  5. This fascinating video just points to the need for human connection despite technological advances that allow us to contribute in isolation. Even in a virtual world, we are drawn to be together, to find meaning in shared experience. This force driving us to collaborate is food for our souls when presented as beautifully as Lux Aurumque .

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