The Tea Party Used the Internet to Defeat* the First Internet President

In a year dominated by online-organized Tea Parties, ubiquitous smart phones, and radical changes in the news media landscape, it's worth taking a step back and asking how the Internet is changing the world, and whether it's a good thing.

Don Tapscott is the co-author, with Anthony D. Williams, of Macrowikinomics, a new book about how mass collaboration enabled by the Internet can change the world. We spoke for a few minutes over the phone yesterday about how the Internet is changing politics, media and education. Here is a lightly edited transcript.

Tell me about your thesis statement. What is wikinomics and how is it changing the world?

The first book Wikinomics was about mass collaboration. The Internet is not about websites. It's a global platform that radically drops transaction costs and that's leading to a change in the Corporation and the way we as a society orchestrate innovation. That was the Wikinomics.

But since then, something has happened. We're had the global financial meltdown. We are now in the Great Recession. And there's no end in sight. In the industrial economy, many of our institutions have finally run out of gas. Our models of government, our systems for global problem solving, universities, you name it. But there are sparkling new initiatives showing the

contours of the new model. It is based on the internet.

The Tea Party is, in many ways, a small-d democratic movement that used the Internet to build a massive political movement. Is the Tea Party an example of what Macrowikinomics is capable of producing?

The big change in media from the industrial media -- print, radio and television -- has been that they were all centralized in one way. They carried the values of their owners. The new media is the antithesis of that. It's distributed. It is many to many, and one to one. You can't control the message. And as such, it has this awesome neutrality and it will be what we want it to be. If we want it to be a platform to track a global virus, or solve the problem of global warming, then it will be that. If we want it to organize against public education [like some strains of the Tea Party], it will be that. So our view is this is an age of participation.

Does the Tea Party represent what you see as a proper or positive use of this new organizational platform?

The Tea Party is absolutely enabled by the Web. It's interesting. President Obama got elected in part by harnessing the Web, drawing on a new generation of young people. Now his biggest challenge comes from old people who are using the Internet more effectively than he is. But our principles are not ideological. Self-organization has been around throughout human history. But the Web is different, because it drops transaction and collaboration costs. It enables organization to happen infinitely more rapidly.

Moving to media, now. What advice do you have for a publisher of a newspaper or magazine in this new age?

Don't think of yourself as just a publisher. Think of yourself as a builder of community. As a curator, not just creator of content. Listen to young people. Their culture is the new culture. That may sound strange. Young people don't read newspapers, but they find commodity news. Give up on commodity. Create compelling value. The Economist is doing fine because it has compelling value. If you're living in the US and you want international news and you're of a center right view, you HAVE to read the Economist.

We argue that media companies need to create rich multimedia experiences for the third screen. The first screen was the TV. The second was the PC. And now it's the mobile device.

On education, I've heard Google CEO Eric Schmidt talk about how classrooms and pedagogy are outdated. He seemed to suggest that it's more important to know how to search for information -- how to ask the right questions -- than the memorize information tables -- to know lots of answers already. What do you think?

There are a few issues here. One issue is what is the purpose of the schools and what should we teach. That's the issue that you just raised, and there is some truth to the fact that when you graduate now you're not set for life. You're set for 15 minutes. If you take a technical course, half of what you learn in the first year is irrelevant in the fourth year. It's not just what you know. It's your capacity to think, your ability to put things in context. But I don't buy that kids shouldn't have to memorize anything. Kids should have to know grammar, times tables, fundamental dates. You need a knowledge base to research.

The second issue is the model of pedagogy, and it is wrong. It's a model based on broadcast learning. It's an old industrial model. We have the best model that 17th century technology can provide. We need to move to a collaborative system. That's the best way to learn grammar and math, collaborating with others. The lecture is a terrible vehicle. I say that having a done a 4 million dollar research project on the question. It's bizarre that we have psychology professors around the world developing their own way of teaching subjects, when there are a few specific ways we know are best. We need meta-universities where we share content creation.


*Pending results!