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Clay Shirky on Why I am Writing This

Clay Shirky on Why I am Writing This

July 25th, 2008  |  Published in Core theory - provisional

NYU media prof, Clay Shirky, has recently published Here Comes Everybody. It’s in the mail as they say, but there is this 40 minute video of Shirky talking about it at the Web 2.0 Expo earlier this year. (Hat tip, John Sumser)  The book puts forward many ideas about how the new media environment created by the Internet is disrupting our institutions and even our mental processes – exactly the things McLuhan said we can expect to change in a new media environment.

I’ll be writing more about the book after I’ve had a chance to read it. What I want to do right now is call your attention to another video of Shirky at the same conference in which he talks about an idea he has had since finishing Here Comes Everybody. The idea is an intuitive leap -  a stab in the dark about why human beings are putting so much time and energy into activity on the net. Why, for example,  I’m sitting here writing this and why you are reading it – along with all the other people pouring energy into the cloud of connections that make up the Internet.  It is a tentative answer to the question of where all that energy is coming from. I wont spoil it by trying to retell Shirky’s story – he does it brilliantly and is entirely engaging. It is a bit over 16 minutes long. You know where he is going after 4 minutes, and YouTube splits the same talk into two 7 minute segments.  So watch as much as you can. The full length and better quality version is here on Blip TV. If you have trouble with that or  a smaller chunk of time the two YouTube segments are here and here.

I will say this however. It is easy to get carried away with techno optimism when we start to get a handle on all the positive things that can come out of new technologies and media. But change on this scale always comes at a cost. We know the industrial revolution created huge social disruption, the consequences of which we still are arguing about. I get as excited as the next person about unexpected additions to our social capital like Wikipedia or Linux. But there is also destruction of social capital. Countless spammers and hackers are beavering away even as others do good works. More seriously, child pornographers are ruining the lives of children, and media emirs are supervising  beheading videos. There is positive and negative, good and evil.

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I propose developing a new media theory as called for by Camile Paglia based on the work of Marshal McLuhan, Norman A Brown, Leslie Fiedler, as well as Eric S Raymond, Glenn Reynolds and others. See the Invitation for fuller information and how you may be able to participate. I want your help just like Linus Torvalds wanted help developing Linux.


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