Howard Rheingold: Way-new collaboration

Howard Rheingold’s 2005 TED talk about new ways of collaborating.

He gives a broad sweep of the ‘evolution’ of cooperation in human civilisation:

  • competition between family groups
  • cooperative hunting
  • agriculture
  • writing
  • printing press
  • literate populations

and says that at each stage new forms of collective action became possible and new forms of wealth developed.

He talks about the literature about Collective Action and looks at two social dilemmas – the Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Ultimatum Game – as examples of ways to test what people think is fair. Apparently our culture thinks that a split around 50/50 is fair, but other cultures, such as slash and burn agriculture, have different views.

He then extends this to the Tragedy of the Commons – humans destroy the commons they depend on – and says that it is a multiplayer version of the prisoners dilemma. The prisoners dilemma can be escaped by creating institutions for collective action and it is possible to identify features that make some of these institutions succeed and some fail.

He discusses the development of the internet and open source and asks where are we moving into now?

The slides he uses are simple and interesting and often make the audience laugh, even though his talk is quite serious. They are a good example of the approach discussed in the Presentation Zen book I’m reading.

His website is

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