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The Effectiveness of Unreasonable Small Groups

Examples of ‘scenius’ where highly-competitive tightly-communicating groups had surprisingly large effects and often finding low-hanging fruit (somehow) eluding generations before them.

Have you ever noticed that amateur anime/illustrations online have gotten dramatically better since the 1990s?

The very best has gotten better, but I’m convinced that the average/median/mode/whatevers have also gotten much better. Some of that is just the boring observation that hard drives can now store high-resolution images and Internet connections can send them without breaking the bank, and some of that is Gimp/Photoshop/formerly-high-end tools becoming democratized by piracy/FLOSS/freeware and more obscure (to non-artists) technological improvements like cheap high-accuracy touchpads you can sketch on, but I feel that these seem insufficient to explain the drastic leap in sophistication and complexity and colorizing.

I think a lot of it comes from social mechanisms—I’ve noticed that many ‘digital native’ artists seem to rely heavily on online communities to learn from. They look at raw intermediates like .PSD files to see how it was gone, they watch videos of livestreamed art or ‘speedsketches’ (sometimes recorded as a video for future reference), they compete in informal and formal contests and try to win community approbation (‘mimetic desire’, anyone?), they follow pop culture which creates a constantly varying set of artistic styles to riff off, they post everything they do to DeviantArt or Tumblr and get instant feedback (however crude), they have enormous libraries of existing materials to trace in order to learn or simply outright copy into something they are working on, they can go full-time thanks to Patreon & 2-sided market commissioning websites like… None of that will necessarily give one inspiration to create divine works of visual art, necessarily (although we have seen a rise of mangas/LNs which began as Pixiv posts), but it sure does help with being a skilled technician.

The same thing appears to have happened with music, coalescing around things like SoundCloud as well as YouTube.

Somewhat like chess, all of this could have been done before in a pre-Internet era, but the competitiveness & communities hyper-charge it all. There was another video game example I had in mind where I read recently a discussion which concluded that YouTube video tutorials/competitions had led to more NES Tetris progress in the past few years than in the prior 20 or so years since the game’s release. Tool-assisted or speedrun or video game hacking in general has been super-charged by the rise of the Internet and small hyper-focused groups collaborating to ‘make number go up’.

  1. Despite—or should that be because?—of their difficulty participating in universities, politics, military, or alcohol.↩︎

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