Book review: Here Comes Everybody

here comes everybody

Here Comes Everybody:
The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.
Clay Shirky
Penguin Press, 2008. 327 pp.

As the invention of the birth control pill and the transistor have led to fundamental changes in society, so too has the invention of social media and the Web 2.0. Online social networks have enabled productive, collaborative groups for form—groups that are larger and more distributed than at any other time in history.

This in a nutshell is Clay Shirky’s argument in Here Comes Everybody. Shirky studies the places where our social networks and technological networks overlap. On the faculty of NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, he writes and teaches on the social and economic effects of the internet.

This very readable book examines the ways that new communications technologies enable groups of like minded people to form more easily than ever before, regardless of geography.

Television didn’t kill radio, and movies didn’t kill live theater. In the same way, the Internet won’t kill news and entertainment outlets or political parties. Our traditional institutional organizations will continue to exist in this new Web 2.0 world, Shirky writes, but their influence will weaken as novel alternatives for group action develop. The more an institution or industry relies on information as its core product, the greater and more complete the changes it now faces.

Without managerial oversight, beyond the profit motive, and outside the old structures that limited group effectiveness, self-forming groups now accomplish things themselves.

In one of many an examples Shirky points to the popular online photo sharing site Flickr.com. Rather than managing or coordinating its thousands (millions?) of users, Flickr lets them coordinate themselves. Flickr simply provides a platform for them to share photos and form groups. Why was Flickr able to provide some of the first photos of the London Transport bombings in 2005? It beat many traditional news outlets because amateurs with camera phones were there when it happened, and posted their photos to Flickr. The Internet, Shirky argues, has become the first and the best group-forming network.

Another example: Blogging has enabled the mass amateurization of publishing, which makes an end-run around traditional press outlets. The change isn’t a shift from one kind of news institution to another, but rather in the definition of news. News is no longer an institutional prerogative. It’s part of a communications ecosystem, occupied by a mix of formal organizations, informal collectives, and individuals.

Shirky argues that, on balance, these changes will be beneficial. The first argument is based on net value: Although the invention of the printing press destroyed some jobs (scribes) it created many others, and the resulting spread of literacy and knowledge benefited society as a whole. The second argument on behalf of new capabilities for groups concentrates on political value. In this view, the changes increase the freedom of people to say and do as they like. An increase in freedom of speech, of the press, and of association, is assumed to be desirable in and of itself.

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One Response to Book review: Here Comes Everybody

  1. […] of speech, of the press, and of association, is assumed to be desirable in and of itself.” (EducationPR, […]

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