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Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations Paperback – February 24, 2009
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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From Publishers Weekly
Blogs, wikis and other Web 2.0 accoutrements are revolutionizing the social order, a development that's cause for more excitement than alarm, argues interactive telecommunications professor Shirky. He contextualizes the digital networking age with philosophical, sociological, economic and statistical theories and points to its major successes and failures. Grassroots activism stands among the winners—Belarus's flash mobs, for example, blog their way to unprecedented antiauthoritarian demonstrations. Likewise, user/contributor-managed Wikipedia raises the bar for production efficiency by throwing traditional corporate hierarchy out the window. Print journalism falters as publishing methods are transformed through the Web. Shirky is at his best deconstructing Web failures like Wikitorial, the Los Angeles Times's attempt to facilitate group op-ed writing. Readers will appreciate the Gladwellesque lucidity of his assessments on what makes or breaks group efforts online: Every story in this book relies on the successful fusion of a plausible promise, an effective tool, and an acceptable bargain with the users. The sum of Shirky's incisive exploration, like the Web itself, is greater than its parts. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A fascinating survey of the digital age . . . An eye-opening paean to possibility." -The Boston Globe
"Drawing from anthropology, economic theory and keen observation, [Shirky] makes a strong case that new communication tools are making once-impossible forms of group action possible . . . [an] extraordinarily perceptive new book." -Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Mr. Shirky writes cleanly and convincingly about the intersection of technological innovation and social change." -New York Observer
"Clay has long been one of my favorite thinkers on all things Internet - not only is he smart and articulate, but he's one of those people who is able to crystallize the half-formed ideas that I've been trying to piece together into glittering, brilliant insights that make me think, yes, of course, that's how it all works." -Cory Doctorow, co-editor of Boing Boing and author of Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present.
"Clear thinking and good writing about big changes." -Stewart Brand
"Clay Shirky may be the finest thinker we have on the Internet revolution, but Here Comes Everybody is more than just a technology book; it's an absorbing guide to the future of society itself. Anyone interested in the vitality and influence of groups of human beings -from knitting circles, to political movements, to multinational corporations-needs to read this book." -Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good for You and Emergence
"How do trends emerge and opinions form? The answer used to be something vague about word of mouth, but now it's a highly measurable science, and nobody understands it better than Clay Shirky. In this delightfully readable book, practically every page has an insight that will change the way you think about the new era of social media. Highly recommended." -Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine and author of The Long Tail
"In story after story, Clay masterfully makes the connections as to why business, society and our lives continue to be transformed by a world of net- enabled social tools. His pattern-matching skills are second to none." -Ray Ozzie, Microsoft Chief Software Architect
"Clay has long been one of my favorite thinkers on all things Internet-- not only is he smart and articulate, but he's one of those people who is able to crystallize the half-formed ideas that I've been trying to piece together into glittering, brilliant insights that make me think, yes, of course, that's how it all works." -Cory Doctorow, co-editor of Boing Boing and author of Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present.
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What does Shirky add to this cacaphony? He adds one important special case of all of the above: the Internet lets us form groups effortlessly. Now we can work together on projects that we wouldn't have known about otherwise. We can find other people for fun in the real (non-Internet) world. We can find people with remarkably obscure interests matching our own. Previously these would have taken far too much time and effort. And the payoff is far too low for any company to be interested in connecting, say, lovers of ancient Chinese art. What the Internet has given us is a set of tools that allow us to create and find these groups.
This comes with its downsides. For instance, at the same time that it becomes easier for me to find blogs devoted to 18th-century ship-in-a-bottle designs, it becomes easier for you to find backwoods militias. The example Shirky gives here is a web bulletin board devoted to encouraging anorexia among its teen members. (This was the only part of the book that actually horrified me.) In the real world, these sorts of groups succumb to social pressure and go into hiding. The web makes it possible for them to find one another; they are no longer alone.
Shirky only gives the briefest treatment of these groups, and seems generally in favor of them for the same reason that people favor free speech: it protects the speech we hate as well as the speech we support. I would have liked deeper coverage here. In a lot of senses, the Internet is making us reconsider the foundations of democracy: now we're face to face with the consequences of truly free speech; what do we do about it, if anything? Do we still stand by the free-speech absolutism that we clung to when it was more or less hypothetical? Shirky doesn't really touch on this.
He's quite often a techno-idealist, which is a stance he assumes professionally. As a technologist, he's convinced that the spread of cheap communications technologies will allow protesters to connect and topple ruling elites; he uses protests within Belarus as an example. He doesn't really follow this up with counterexamples: Great Firewall Of China, anyone? More to the point: politics will exist even after text messages amongst flashmobs are a faint memory. I'd have liked this book better had Shirky cowritten it with a political scientist.
Had Shirky dug into this a little more, the whole tone of his book would have changed. Had he scaled out his historical perspective, he might not be as optimistic either. I've been reading about the revolutionary potential of technology at least since I started using PGP; it was supposed to have been used by freedom fighters in the jungles of Burma. This strain continued through O'Reilly's publication of its collection of essays on P2P. Within there were essays on, say, FreeNet, which was explicitly designed to create a censorship-proof peer-to-peer network. Only the occasional voice was brave enough to ask whether FreeNet would even be permitted within a repressive regime. If Shirky were interested in convincing me that technology might topple existing power structures, he'd go ask how those freedom-fighters are doing.
Shirky's is a valuable point of view, but it's a point of view that I've heard too many times. Nowadays, it's more courageous -- and ultimately, I think, more helpful to the world -- to write a book disagreeing with Shirky ("Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge," say, or "The Cult of the Amateur") than it is to write Here Comes Everybody.
All of this is well and good, and makes for interesting reading. It is also nice to get a look into modern life from a somewhat detached observer. However, I could not find anything in this book that made it stand out from similar books released in the same decade by authors such as Thomas Friedman or James Surowiecki. There is no sharp insight or little-known facts in this book, only general social trends that can be gleaned from the observant parent or attentive public school teacher. It would have been nice if the book had explored a little on how the use of social media in political protests was pioneered at the RAND Corporation and subsequently rolled out by the US intelligence agencies in places like Belarus! Maybe a chapter that compares and contrast the dynamics in an internet chat room with an old wives club in a suburb would offer insight into how our new social media has changed the way adultery is handled...? But nothing of this seriousness is found here, hence the three stars. The book is highly readable, never boring, but also nothing to make it a great book.