Collective Effervescence and Mass (networked) Synchronicity

Why was Generosity Day such a success?

Sure the message was “sticky”, but there’s more going on here.  I’m beginning to understand in a deeper way how people desire to participate in collective opportunities to create something positive, and our increased ability to create these opportunities.

Throughout the first day of speakers at TED2011, I’m seeing a pattern emerge in a number of talks that touch on the power of the internet to allow us engage in global, connected experiences – sometimes simultaneous in real time (like Generosity Day), and sometimes made simultaneous by the curator.

Eric Whitacre today shared a video that I found deeply touching.  Eric, who is a musician and composer, shared sheet music for a composition he’d written and asked people to record videos of themselves singing one part of the music.  185 people from around the world made usable submissions.  They were, of course, singing asynchronously, but Eric and some friends stitched everything together digitally to create a virtual choir.  What’s so amazing (in addition to the sheer beauty and wonder of the video itself) is the sense of connection the participants felt to each other and to the collective experience.  That, as much as the final product itself, is what Eric created.

Aaron Koblin is also combining mass participation in novel ways, whether through having people sketch parts of massive drawings of sheep, or having Jonny Cash fans from around the world create individual sketches that, when played at eight frames per second, create a powerful, fan-generated tribute to this musical legend.

Tony Salvador is an anthropologist who has studied and experienced numerous mass religious pilgrimages, and he’s found that as people come together, it is impossible to avoid getting caught up in the feeling of “collective effervescence” – impossible not to feel joy and connection just from being in the presence of throngs of people who are having joyous experiences.

There is an increasing power and a potential to use the web to create opportunities for collective experience and collective action, and more than ever there is an opportunity to initiate and curate these experiences in a way that taps into a deep sense of connectedness and being part of something bigger.

People are longing for this sense of connection, and maybe, just maybe, the web gives us the power to make this kind of connection happen in very real ways in the very real world.

Here’s Eric’s beautiful virtual choir.  Enjoy.