An orchestra differs from an ensemble in that it includes a management function – the conductor.
Members of a small ensemble consisting of two or three people tune up by reacting to each other directly. As the ensemble grows in size, they also use rhythm or lead instrument for tuning.
In large groups, the separate role of conductor is needed: a manager who creates not music, but a symphony, cohesion. Instead of reacting to the movement of all (which is impossible when there is a large number of participants), musicians in an orchestra react to the conductor. And he, in turn, uses the passion and meaning of his movements to achieve the necessary, harmonious response.
If we take the designated function of leader – one who unifies the interaction of a large group – and remove its passion and personality, it becomes a bureaucracy. An institution is an “orchestra,” within which “symphonity” or, more accurately, the idea of “symphonity”, becomes more important than the music itself.
On the web, people interact via content, i.e. through a substance that is alienated and fixed. In other words, the alienation of the managerial role (the conductor) is replaced by the alienation of the content (the “musical material” itself). It’s possible to tune up not only to a single management centre, but also to a stream of already alienated and fixed, collectivized fragments of content. This stream on the Internet is also visible to other “players” in the “orchestra.” Moreover, even their reaction is visible; it becomes fixed in the arrangement of old content or in the emergence of new content.
Content becomes the conductor in a web orchestra. The symphony takes shape from hundreds or thousands of individual reactions that are fast, but all the same, not simultaneous. If participants react to fixed content and if they are allowed to do so successively, with a small lag, there is no need for synchrony or a common centre.
The Soviet cyberneticists Viktor Varshavsky and Dmitry Pospelov wrote in their book The orchestra plays without a conductor about the following incident:
“On February 13, 1922, the Persimfans orchestra, the first symphonic ensemble of the Mossovet (Moscow City Council), gave its first performance. This performance became a true sensation for all professionals and lovers of music.
“Persimfans performed music without a conductor. And they did not play pieces that are simple for group performance. In their first programme, they played serious musical compositions such as Beethoven’s third (heroic) symphony and his concerto for violins and orchestra. They played so harmoniously and with such artistry that professionals left the concert in complete bewilderment. They couldn’t help but suspect some kind of trick or magic behind the Persimfans performance, that a hidden person was conducting the orchestra, providing the kind of unique execution that can only be created through the will of a conductor. Because only a conductor is capable of giving his own, deeply individual interpretation of music, tying together the dynamics of its performance, synchronizing the different instrumental parts and forcing an enormous orchestra to sound harmonious. Precisely because of this, musicians are usually arranged on the stage so that they can see the conductor and follow his direction.
“But the Persimfans musicians sat in a completely different way. The strings sat in a full circle (some of them with their backs to the audience!), with the wind instruments seated at the center. All the musicians were able to see each other, because, in Persimfans, every musician listened to every other musician, and to the whole, and the whole listened to every individual musician. There was no trick to it. By cooperating directly with one other, the brilliant musicians who made up Persimfans easily got by without a conductor…
“Within the general goal – the achievement of artistic performance – each musician fulfilled his own local aim to the best of his capabilities, demonstrating the fullest extent of his professional capabilities… Thus, instead of centralized management realized in the form of a conductor, in Persimfans a decentralized style of management had triumphed. This style was achieved thanks to such collective coordination between the musicians, which gave rise to a management process. But how this happened remained unclear because it did not fit into the clear-cut, formal rules.”
In their book, Varshavsky and Pospelov also note: “This kind of situation, where complex processes develop not thanks to centralized influence, but to the local interactions of their elements, is widely visible in nature and in human society.” The authors say that in large systems which “no single individual created as a whole,” centralized management is ineffective and, in some cases, impossible. It, therefore, becomes necessary to use decentralized management. Strictly speaking, this is not management, but adjustment.
Varshavsky and Pospelov demonstrate that adjustment without a single centre is possible even in a “collective of machines.” If machines take into account each other’s behaviour (or, more precisely, the result of their actions), a new quality emerges, uniting their ecosystem.
Returning to the analogy of the ensemble and orchestra, it can be said that if the function of adjustment is delegated to the participants and if the resource exists (time or speed of counting) for adequate reaction, then adjustment of the ensemble is even possible in large, complex systems.
On the web, people react to each other’s content. This content is already aimed at generating a response, meaning it is intended for others to use. Its further development is charged by personal motivation (the thirst for response). Every link in the chain of responses, like the link in a chain of DNA, is from the very beginning technically adjusted to connect with the next links.
In other words, every participant on the web wants to be drawn in. Therefore, his or her reactivity is proactive. This cannot be said of participants in an institutional organization, who are “compelled” to become subordinates in the management process in their efforts to receive their grant from the scarce resources under institutional control.
On the web, the elemental desire to join in, as well as the suitability of the content to generate response, secures the dispersal of management. This turns out to be sufficient for harmonious interaction without an interaction plan. These pedestrians do not march in formation. <…>
Excerpted from: Human as media. The emancipation of authorship – by Andrey Miroshnichenko
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