Clay Shirky Talks @ the ICA

16 Feb

Clay Shirky did a gig at the ICA 4th Feb (yes it’s taken me a while to get round to writing about it!). His basic thesis is simple:

“Everywhere you look groups of people are coming together to share with one another, work together, take some kind of public action.”

The difference is that today, unlike even ten years ago, technological change means such groups can be formed and act in new and powerful ways. I didn’t spend my time twittering throughout the event like many others, or extensive note writing, but here’s my tripled distilled version…

  • Improv Everywhere pulled off an event whereby on the same day, a group of New Yorkers rode the subway with no pants. Okay so this is a “real world” event, but would this have been possible without the ubiquitous nature of the Internet? Group action has just got easier. For the first time, we have the tools to make group action truly a reality.
  • Ryerson student Chris Avenir was accused of cheating and threatened to be expelled from school for creating a Facebook study group, where students could ask questions about homework assignments. We know that study groups have always existed, so surely this is simply an extension of a real world social norm? Ryerson were mistakenly employing old behaviours to tackle an entirely new social norm.  The thing that Facebook is most like is…Facebook! Technology is enabling change, but we need to consider institutional and cultural change, rather than trying to apply old rules of behaviour to new social behaviours.
  • Gnarly Kitty is a journalist wannabe and she blogs about the things she loves  – pink, fashion, cutesy things, Bangkok, and pink again. Then a coup happens in Thailand and the government tells the media not to report on it. And Gnarly Kitty publishes the first picture of tanks in front of the parliament house and she becomes the global go-to news source. But then she posts about a cutesy new pink phone she’d like to own, and the new readers get upset and want more about the coup. She responds with a post that it’s her blog and it’s about what’s going on in her life – which includes the cutesy pink phone! So what’s different here to professional journalism? Well she’s not talking to us – she’s talking to her friends. We’re not used to seeing things that are public, but not in the public.
  • Back in 2006, a black president seemed impossible. Noble, but ultimately doomed. Will.I.Am’s ‘Yes We Can’ helped shift perception to what’s possible, it made ‘Obama’ possible. And in politics, perception is reality. Later in the Obama vs. McCain campaign, we saw two very different approaches. Obama gave away implicit permission and social tools for people to back his campaign, whereas McCain adopted a “comand and control” approach – going as far as giving quotes to strictly copy and paste. The wildfire spread of new forms of social interaction , has profound long-term economic and social effects.

Technology is ubiqutous and mass collaboration is upon us. And it’s affecting everybody.

Like what you hear? Buy the book. And more great talks at the ICA.


One Response to “Clay Shirky Talks @ the ICA”

  1. kitty February 20, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

    Wow. I sound dumb. Thanks!

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