Crowdsourced Wisdom

A crowd of people gathered near the manger and worshiped a newborn baby.  Shepherds, angels, animals, wise men.  It was quite a diverse crowd in fact.  Another crowd gathered some years later, this time jeering, to watch the now grown object of that earlier adoration tortured and hung on a cross.  Crowds seem to have the capacity for good or evil.  Witness the joy that singing and dancing flash mobs call forth.   Remember the embodiment of evil represented by lynch mobs in the Jim Crow south. 

There was a TED talk last year by young American composer Eric Whitacre about his fourth edition of a virtual choir – i.e. a choir made up of individuals who have recorded their singing of a particular piece, usually in their own home, which is then brought together with technology to create a choir.    I shared the first of Whitacre’s TED talks in this space a few years ago when he demonstrated the beauty of more than a thousand voices gathered from around the world into a virtual performance of his Lux aurumque.  In this recent version people from many different places around the world uploaded recordings of themselves singing a part of Whitacre’s piece Cloudburst.  His efforts were described as harnessing “the artistic wisdom of the crowd” in a Huffington Post article, recalling  a concept outlined in a book by James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, published in 2005.  

In this case the crowd is separated by geography and brought together by technology.  Maybe that is down the road for churches too…who knows.  But before the virtual church becomes commonplace, perhaps we can simply look around us and see the wisdom that surrounds us every day in the bits and pieces of knowledge that each of us have to share.  A diverse crowd gathered around a manger after all and wisely saw a Savior.  On a very simple level, each of your voices on a Sunday morning – the raspy, the out of tune, the whispered, the soaring – contributes to making a hymn sound beautiful.  The music would not be as wonderful without the addition of your “artistic wisdom”, and that is the truth. 

And the conclusion I keep coming to is that wisdom is found in a diversity of opinions that come from young and old, rich and poor, healthy and unhealthy, liberal and conservative, and all the other ways we define differences.  A crowd’s capacity for evil perhaps then comes from a homogeneity of background and thought? 

Behold now the beauty of crowdsourced artistic wisdom, which is what nearly all music ultimately represents.  Whitacre’s Cloudburst is a startling piece of music based on a text by 20th century Mexican poet Octavio Paz.  Here is the link to the TED talk, with the music itself beginning at 3:35.


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