The fact that new technology has made a difference in how we act and communicate as individuals isn’t disputed by anyone. However the precise ways in which tools such as digital phone-cameras, facebook, flickr and livejournal have impacted communities and society as a whole have been less easy to quantify.
This is what Clay Shirky sets out to do in ‘Here Comes Everybody’, and his analysis of the changes to group formation as a result of greater connectivity, makes an excellent read which anyone interested in technology and forming active groups should check out.
One of the negative impacts of the increasing mobility of the labour market is the impact it has had on families, local communities and a society’s ‘social capital’. John Gray for instance has drawn on statistics to make the connection between neo-liberal policies in America and the UK to the fact they have the highest levels of imprisonment and social breakdown in the West.
Interestingly, Shirky points to the use of technology in helping form new groups through tools such as meetup.com to replace traditional avenues of group formation such as bowling leagues.
Inane to Us, Profound to Others
As Liberal Conspiracy has documented from time to time, there is a lot of scare-mongering about the perils of myspace and facebook. Especially to people who are older a lot of chatter on social networking sites seems to be inane. Shirky does an excellent job in not only showing that a lot of what seems mundane is actually ordinary discussions between friends which normally take place offline, but he also gives telling examples of how the same tools which seem silly in the west have been used to great effect by pro-democracy campaigners in countries as different as Egypt and Belarus.
Online v Offline Campaigning
One of the most interesting parts of the Liberal Conspiracy meet up from a couple of months ago was the presentation made by Dan Hardie, who gave his experiences from running the Iraqi Interpreters campaign.
A couple of really interesting points which he made were the fact that although that word of mouth was spent online, a lot of the actual letter-writing and meetings with politicians took time and had to be done offline. Another point was that ‘open-source’ campaigning coudn’t mean that there was no hierarchy and structure to the organisation.
This jives in well with what Shirky talks about the formation of groups. Most of the work follows the so called ‘power law’ which means that a small percentage of people do most of the work. However what is different to before is that the obstacles in other people joining to create the group are a lot smaller.
Shirky explains the 3 key factors in making a successful group – Making a Promise which hits the sweetspot between being the aim being ambitious without seeming implausible. Having the tools to implement that aim and striking a bargain with potential members so that being part of that group isn’t too onerous for them.
Examples of successful group formation include people protesting against the Catholic Church’s role in covering up sex offences to students complaining about HSBC’s unfair bank charges.
A refreshing aspect of this book is that Shirky analyses and appreciates the changes which modern technology has had on society, without portraying them as utopian or ignoring possible negative consequences. Anyone interested should read the book and also check out his other writings at www.shirky.com
|Post to del.icio.us|
Filed in: Technology