08 February 2008

Clay Shirky

A few days ago, I went to a small event at Daylife that my friend Michael invited me to. It was framed as cocktails and conversation with Clay Shirky; the email mentioned the topic of Clay's talk as being "the difference between sharing, cooperation, and collective action when designing group software." Now, that kind of sent me into a panic because I pictured myself in a room full of designers nodding with great understanding of "designing group software" and me sitting there drawing a complete blank, since all I know about design is that I like minimalism and typography.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised. No, I was explosively surprised. According to Wikipedia, Clay is:
an American writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. He teaches New Media as an adjunct professor at New York University's (NYU) graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). His courses address, among other things, the interrelated effects of the topology of social networks and technological networks, how our networks shape culture and vice-versa.
And that's what he talked about. He essentially spoke of what my Great Love was in college – social cognition – and added the dimension of The Internet to it. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.

His theories were fascinating, and his book that the talk was based off of – Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations – is coming out very soon and I am very much going to buy it. Shirky gave three examples of online platforms leading to sharing leading to cooperation leading to collective action; my favorite one was a story of teenagers forming an ice cream-eating flash mob in October Square in Belarus. They organized it on LiveJournal, so it obviously wasn't a "secret conspiracy," but in any case it is illegal to form a group in October Square (Lukashenko apparently outlawed it, declaring groups in October Square a sign of plotting to overthrow the government). Five of the kids were arrested and others were harrassed. One blogger wrote, "The whole world will be laughing.” As Clay said in his talk, "Nothing says dictatorship like arresting people for eating ice cream." brilliant.

arrested in Belarus for eating ice cream

Two added bonuses to this whole thing were:
1. Clay Shirky is super friendly and approachable and I want to be his friend,
2. I saw Nick Denton there; he was in my "people as corporations" column that was published 2 days earlier. neat.

[images from litota_'s LiveJournal and Amazon]
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