Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hat Tippin

Today I read an interesting article from the New York Times about plagiarism. Basically the youth of our society (the new generation of college students) doesn't see anything wrong with plagiarism anymore. Most internet media is perceived to be fair game. The removal of books in our lives has convinced the youth of today that ideas don't really belong to anybody, but rather our a collective property of society.

One thing I often consider is the way I share information on Facebook. All the time I am posting articles or videos that interest me or make me laugh. And of course I notice plenty of my friends repost things I've posted. Can I always say with absolute certainty they got it from me? No, certainly not. But it's rare to see a "hat tip" given out even though there is a chain of information passing. I realize these hat tips are small gestures to somebody who doesn't even own the idea, but there's something in the discovery and giving credit for that discovery.

In the article they quote a Ms. Wilensky for her ideas on what is creativity. She states, “You’re not coming up with new ideas if you’re grabbing and mixing and matching... It may be increasingly accepted, but there are still plenty of creative people — authors and artists and scholars — who are doing original work. It’s kind of an insult that that ideal is gone, and now we’re left only to make collages of the work of previous generations."

I think Ms. Wilensky has a jaded definition of what new ideas are. Everything we draw upon to create is based upon previous experience. Even when we develop the new or original it is because of past lessons learned. Now, I don't think this is necessarily the same as what she describes as "grabbing and mixing and matching." I think mashups are a good example of that. Something mildly creative, but not really taking ideas to a new level. However, as a student of political science, I often wrote papers that I'm sure were not completely new or groundbreaking ideas. However, their was an originality to it because of my route of discovery that lead to it. My experiences helped to unfold these ideas in a different light than many who came before me. And in turn I presented it to the world anew.

This communal property idea of knowledge and ideas destroys a lot of individuality. It decreases the incentive to produce and create more. I think the real problem with this plagiarism and communal knowledge comes from the desire to simply use it for personal gain rather than help return it to something greater for society. The availability of knowledge is a wonderful gift, but if we simply steal it, claim it as our own, and return nothing for it we are simple thieves. However, if we grow from these tidbits of knowledge and find a way to return something greater to society we will see immense progression from society.