WIRED MAGAZINE: 17.06
The New Socialism: Global Collectivist
Society Is Coming Online
By Kevin Kelly
Bill Gates once derided
open source advocates with the
a capitalist can muster. These folks,
he said, were a "new modern-day sort of communists," a malevolent force bent on destroying the
monopolistic incentive that helps support the American dream. Gates was wrong: Open source zealots are
more likely to be libertarians than commie pinkos. Yet there is some truth to his allegation. The frantic
global rush to connect everyone to everyone, all the time, is quietly giving rise to a revised version of
Communal aspects of digital culture run deep and wide. Wikipedia is just one remarkable example of an
emerging collectivism—and not just Wikipedia but wikiness at large.
, who invented the
collaborative Web page
in 1994, tracks nearly
150 wiki engines
today, each powering myriad sites.
, launched just three years ago, hosts more than 1 million communal efforts. Widespread adoption
of the share-friendly Creative Commons alternative copyright license and the rise of ubiquitous file-sharing
are two more steps in this shift. Mushrooming collaborative sites like
have added weight to this great upheaval. Nearly every day another startup proudly
heralds a new way to harness community action. These developments suggest a steady move toward a sort
of socialism uniquely tuned for a networked world.
We're not talking about your grandfather's socialism. In fact, there is a long list of past movements this new
socialism is not. It is not class warfare. It is not anti-American; indeed, digital socialism may be the newest
American innovation. While old-school socialism was an arm of the state, digital socialism is socialism
without the state. This new brand of socialism currently operates in the realm of culture and economics,
rather than government—for now.
The type of communism with which Gates hoped to tar the creators of Linux was born in an era of enforced
borders, centralized communications, and top-heavy industrial processes. Those constraints gave rise to a
type of collective ownership that replaced the brilliant chaos of a free market with scientific five-year plans
devised by an all-powerful politburo. This political operating system failed, to put it mildly. However,
unlike those older strains of red-flag socialism, the new socialism runs over a borderless Internet, through a
tightly integrated global economy. It is designed to heighten individual autonomy and thwart centralization.
It is decentralization extreme.
Instead of gathering on collective farms, we gather in collective worlds. Instead of state factories, we have
desktop factories connected to virtual co-ops. Instead of sharing drill bits, picks, and shovels, we share
apps, scripts, and APIs. Instead of faceless politburos, we have faceless meritocracies, where the only thing
that matters is getting things done. Instead of national production, we have peer production. Instead of