The world as we know it

Clay Shirky Here Comes EverybodyThis post is the seventh in a series that will be for a graduate course called Theory and Audience Analysis. For the course, I will be posting weekly questions and follow-up analysis about the various readings we are assigned. This post looks further into “Here Comes Everybody” by Clay Shirky.

In our class discussions of Shirky’s theory, the primary way of poking holes in his theories revolved around pointing out the negative aspects of what he observes. (Ex: Sure, group collaboration is easier with the rise of new technologies, but what about the people who use it for ill means?). However, the success and failure of these groups isn’t really the point. Yes, look at the world with a glass half-empty attitude will result in seeing the negative aspects of collaboration, action and ‘amateurization.’ But luckily the world isn’t created in black and white, good or bad. There are always extreme cases of success and failure, but they often balance each other out.

It was interesting to that overall the biggest success of open source projects are their failures. From the time grades started to matter in elementary school and being the loser took on a bad connotation in games, we don’t often get the opportunity to fail without consequence. I am taking the opportunity with this grad school program to successfully fail as much as possible, by trying new techniques and ideas to get the most learning out of it as possible. Unfortunately, I have to be careful about my failures. There is still a level of achievement I must reach to earn a diploma at the end of this year.

I thought the metaphor of the calculator was compelling when we look at the latest social media technologies. Do calculators mean that the average American probably couldn’t do a complicated long division problem by hand in a short amount of time? Of course. But it also means that even the most complex mathematical problems can be solved and corrected in record speed. It makes you wonder if there is any real point in debating the negatives of these social media constructs? Just because members on Four Chan can come together to hack a website, it doesn’t negate the positive actions of other groups that worked collaboratively to achieve a good end.

Shirky concludes that we know take our social tools for granted, which is true, until suddenly a tool as we know it isn’t available. Frustration can run high when we encounter the Twitter FailWhale or face yet another round of Facebook updates. Once a new social media tool reaches a certain level of society (i.e. Facebook and it’s latest update hoopla), there is little gained from complaining about it. We will either choose to give in and adapt to the changes or we will choose not to use them. There are positives and negatives to both choices. In reality, a few months or a year from now, how many of the current users will remember what the former design used to be like? And if some how the changes signaled the end of the social media conglomerate, there would just be new outlets waiting to take its place.

This is the world we now live in. For the millennial generation, it is the only world we know. But even we will eventually no longer be the young generation. At 24, I am already moving toward the other end of the spectrum. (I remember a world where everyone I know didn’t have a computer or a cellphone. When using a computer-lab was a special privilege reserved for the fifth graders at my elementary school. When Facebook only let in students with a college e-mail address. When twitter was a word I had only ever heard in Bambi.) The exciting idea of entering this field of interactive media, is that we will have to be a part of the rapid changes that are sure to take place. To avoid irrelevance and survive in the industry, we will have to adapt.


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