I’m an Olympics junkie and confess to watching hours of coverage. Yes, on TV. So retro.

I’m also a China fan, having had the opportunity to visit Beijing and Shanghai recently.

All by way of saying that I watched the remarkable spectacle of the Opening Ceremonies and was struck, like so many others, by the perfectly synchronized choregraphy of several thousand artists, dancers, drummers, percussionists, etc. (image from The Boston Globe).

Harmony. Collaboration. Many as one. The power of the group vs. the individual. China couldn’t have demonstrated the concept more elegantly or with more historical resonance. (Although James Fallows points out that many of the performers were soldiers, which is a bit unnerving.)

In the New York Times today David Brooks makes some interesting observations about individualist vs. collectivist societies. Namely, that inhabitants of these different societies literally see the world differently. He cites the example of showing an American a fish tank: the American will pick out the biggest fish. Show a Chinese (or Japanese?) person the same fish tank and he or she will describe how the fish swim together.

My epiphany of the week…

Makes me wonder if we haven’t happened onto something totally obvious in Web 2.0: Communities and collaboration are powerful. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And so on.

 Of course, a key difference between China’s collectivist bent and the collaborative spirit of social media is that our emphasis is on innovation, on the unexpected and on new ideas bubbling to the top. Whereas in China, the government’s emphasis is on conformity and duty.

Still, food for thought…

Addendum: my friend James Fallows, currently living in Beijing, points out that David Brooks’ observations about China’s collectivist, harmonious society are oversimplified. Yes, of course they are. But there’s still enough truth in them to make some interesting comparisons.

One of the most obvious points is that China is more crowded. It has roughly ten times the population of the U.S. You feel it everywhere (at least in the big cities I visited). Wall-to-wall people on the street, in the subway, inside department stores like H & M. Everything about China says more and many. I loved the energy. Most notably, it feels very American.