Wisdom of Crow(d)s or the coolest piece ever written about birds & the web

I didn´t expect a natural phenomenon to happen right in the middle of Berlin. But so it did. Here´s how and how it turned out to be a great metaphor for social action in the net. Tired from a not so thrilling conference I walked along the river Spree towards the massive Bundeskanzleramt – Angie Merkels White House, if you want. I stopped where the huge walls of the building run into one cone end. Pretty impressive by its own, I soon figured crows flying from left to right through the vast circular holes of the walls.

(ok, due to my lack of proper English to express architectural shapes, let me give you an impression. This is quite like where I stood, to the right comes the cone end and clearly to see, there´s those big built-in holes)


Maybe it was the sleepiness that tuned my brain to gamma-waves, but it was one of those moments that might appear ordinary for any other person, but pretty special to you being in the right mood for „seeing things“. So crows came from left to right and right to left flying through that hole as if they were making fun of the million and kilo heavy, grey design monster. „Kra, kra“. Alright. I walked on. More „kra, kra, kra“ above my head and I saw them flying across the top edge of the building. Arrows of black, not too fast, rather floating. The „flap, flap, flap“ of their wings came to it. I sat down. I saw them building dark clouds over at the other side of the river. I bended backwards over the bench, looking straight into the sky. „Kra, flap, kra“. It just did not stop. They did not stop. Ever more lines of crows flew over that roof edge and darkened the sky. I don´t give you a stupid crow photo from flickr here, imagine just the biggest accumulation of birds possible – that´s what it was.

I began trying to figure out a plan behind their flight direction. Who was leading? Who had the idea to settle on that tree across the river, so many now, that the tree carried far more load than it had with its leaves back in summer? Inside the stream of birds were outliers, mini flocks doing their for a short span of time, yet keeping connected to the whole. Now, the thing about staring in the sky or staring at anything is that people join you, because they don´t want to miss the show. Two other guys, according to their style coming from the same conference, stopped and watched with me. Their smiles and shaking heads told me that I wasn´t the only freak seeing something rare in this. The swarm left the tree (it were far too many for one tree, so some sat on trees nearby or kept circling the center). Again, if they wouldn´t have looked all the same, I might have been able to figure out the boss of that armada. Nope.

dohle-murnauA picture that hang in an office on a total different occasion a few days after publishing…

They headed over the bridge that crossed the Spree, direction main train station. I followed. The two other guys and me stopped again on the bridge and there were just birds as hell in the sky, now without a sincere direction, just crowding a focused area. „Freaky“, I said to the guys and smiled. „Impressive“, one returned and smiled back. My tube was leaving from Hauptbahnhof. Heaven knows why I wasn´t hit by a car keeping my head in the crow loaded heavens.

kraheAnd suddenly you see the necklace of your flatmate in a different light

Phew, quite a nice return to prosa, just not in my mother tongue. Now here´s the alpha-wave headed executive summary about what came into my mind seeing this…

A) In this young year I came across some impressive possibilities of the web when it comes to helping individuals. One guy blogged about a homeless person he met and interviewed and was able to raise cash and clothes in no time. People commented and brought in their additional thoughts to help this single person in need get out of poverty and a roof above his head in a sustainable manner aka fulfilling his dream of building a cafe for other homeless people. Another blogger posted the story of a mother with cancer in pretty emotional terms, but also created the micro-initiative „I care“. Not much later, people loaded their faces up on flickr, holding a sign in front of them reading „I care“. Let it be ten of them, let it be 20 trackbacks on other blogs – the woman felt understood and gained confidence. More in the making.

Now, these problems – homeless people, people with cancer – are all around, nothing special, if one might say in this sense. Yet, those people were made special by dedicated people and their networked one-person-media, of course adding their facebook, twitter and other social network stakes into the game.

B) Throughout the last year, a rather philosophocal thought kept haunting me or, better said, returned popping into my mind: „Save the world one person at a time“. Now, this is neither mega-new nor am I the copyright-holder of this (I remember at least three people working this out with me in a wine-loaded night). Nevertheless, it proved itself to be true and working over the months to come and pass. There´s now an overwhelming believe inside me, that this is the key area to work on in all kinds of senses: The individual. More precise: To lift the individual in a stage being able to live his true calling. To get free from restrictions and to a clarity of mind. And with this, inspire the next (single) person. And the next and the next and the next. It would be too much to mention all the books, incidents and personal meetings that have proven this lever… to be substantial for… everything.

krahe-oxfordShortly after I sent him my text, my partner Ole found this birdie in Oxford

C) Say it with Barack Obama: The problems are many, complex, global and it´ll take a long time to settle them. But each one is asked by him to take responsibility. That doesn´t mean that everybody necessarily needs to combat climate change („But how about the Chinese?!“) or the financial crisis („I hate numbers!“) or, even more ludicrous, global terrorism („Anybody with special forces education in here?“). No, of course this can´t be the solution. „And if you become a dustman, you´ll better be the damn best dustman in the world!“, the dad of a good friend of mine once told his young son. Have you seen dustmans recently? I´ve seen them wheeze and laugh out loud far more often than any suit wearing consultant in my life! But, before I get distracted…

D) Yes, this is the time of individualism and we lack an intellectual or, even more, emotional connection among each other that´s needed to get these problems done. But, hey, right in front of us emerges a technology that serves and promotes the individual like never before, yet offers enormous potential to connect with each other. Let´s assume, without looking into the biology books, that a flock of crowes has no institutional leader per se. Anybody with a good idea/direction can take the lead. And a darn big crowd of fat black crowes eventually follows. The flock settles on a tree as it wishes, being kings of the air, nobody there to stop them. Now what if trees become issues in our metaphoric model? What if I have an idea, a cause worth fighting for, that gets the crowd behind me by its pure convincing, make-sense content, them all having a free choice to follow?

stefanStefan, a canadian eco-artist I interviewed for Utopia, playing with doves

I mean, what if we would sit on trees/issues with such a mass of people? Who´d be able to stop us? This leaves freedom to the individual to grow and do „his own thing“, yet gives the same freedom to join a course/cause (nice one) and become a jet force for change. I´m totally into facebook and twitter right now, but I would argue that this applies to mostly all social networks and media. The individual is king AND the group is king. So let´s find a way to make the most out of this. I´ve struggled long to find „what“ is worth fighting for, but maybe it´s more about the „how“ we fight for so many different, still all reasonable, causes more effectively. I beg you help me out to get this more clear and let´s start a damn social business movement (etc.) out of this.

Meanwhile, the „social media business“ to these thoughts is in place. I hook up with Ole, the man blogging about the homeless, and just recently with Sandra, who worked with armed angels. Still in search for a name/URL (maybe we´ll never have one, just as an anti-gag…) we´re already working with extraordinary clients from the green and social sector and it even seems that we can make a fine bunch of money out of this („social business“ approach). So basically we form a creative agency that´ll help those projects thru social media. More from this whenever we should have time/a URL ;-)

Anyways, I think with these people I found my flock. And there´s many highflyers keen to join us already…

Kra, kra. Flap, flap.

p1000328„Once you see it, you can´t unsee it“, said Arundhati Roy. There´s actually lots of those metal crows around, apparently to stop real birds from hanging around. Ole mentioned the early warning capacities of birds when dangers arrive and other animals follow their behaviour. Also pretty sexy in terms of an agency organizing web mobs…

4 Gedanken zu „Wisdom of Crow(d)s or the coolest piece ever written about birds & the web

  1. Benjamin

    Very cool text Daniel!! Congratulations! I like the way you got touched by this event and then use it as analogy for human social net and the web!!

    Insights about leadership in such a crowd?
    What may these birds think about human crowds making their way through Berlin??


  2. Jürgen

    Hallo Daniel,

    schöner Text … und, die Rabenvögel sind in der Tat außergewöhnliche Tiere und faszinieren schon seit langem die Menschheit … „In der nordischen Mythologie sitzen die beiden Kolkraben Hugin und Munin auf den Schultern von Odin. Der Name “hugin” leitet sich vom altnordischen Verb huga (=denken) ab, und Munin kommt von muna (=sich erinnern)“.

    Mittlerweile weiß die Forschung auch dass Rabenvögel Werkzeuge einsetzen oder z.B. wie im folgenden Beispiel sehr clever vorgehen:
    Krähen werfen z.B. häufig Nüsse auf die Straße damit die Autos darüber fahren und sie knacken. Die Krähen werfen die Nüsse gezielt an Zebrastreifen auf die Fahrbahn damit sie während der Rotphase ausreichend Zeit haben die Bruchstücke gefahrlos einzusammeln … “ ; )
    Auch die Fähigkeit von Elstern sich selbst im Spiegel zu erkennen ist ein weiterer Beleg für die Besonderheit der Rabenvögel …

    So, genug über Brehms Tierleben philosophiert … habe nach einem Gespräch mit Sandra letzten Freitag bei likeminded euer nest entdeckt … ; ) … spannend, … viel Erfolg!


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