Watching the Crowd

from Hamlet's Blackberry
William Powers

Ultimately, human experience is not about what happens to most people, it's about what happens to each of us, hour by hour and moment by moment. Rather than using the general as a route to the particular, sometimes we need to take exactly the opposite approach. This is especially true when the question is the quality of our lives. In recent years, there's been a tremendous fascination with crowd thinking and behavior. The digital crowd not only has power, we're told, it also has wisdom.

Watching the crowd can certainly tell you which way popular tastes are heading and who's buying which products at any given moment. This isn't wisdom at all, however, but what's commonly known as "smarts," that canny ability to read the landscape that serves one well in stock picking, gambling and other short-term pursuits. Every crowd is just a collection of individual selves, and to understand what's happening to those selves right now, we all have instant, no-password access to the most reliable source of all. Our own lives can teach us things that no data set ever can, if we'd just pay attention to them.

I chose this quotation for many reasons, but one of them is in the second sentence of the first paragraph. I have rarely read the purpose and the power of fiction so clearly and succinctly expressed.


  1. I'm not sure I completely understand the point of the quotation in general--and particularly the comment about the relationship to one's quality of life.

    How does one generalize to the general population regarding the quality of one's life if one doesn't have a blackberry or even a cell phone or an ipod or a kindle or any of the small ubiquitous electronic/digital gadgets many seem to be attached to?

  2. Dear Fred,

    This is at the very beginning of the book and meant to be introductory. He does purport elsewhere to discuss some of the issues you raise, and if I decide to finish the book, I'll let you know if he does.



  3. Steven,

    It should be interesting to read his discussion about these issues.


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