Collaboration and interaction are here to stay. Whether searching for a lost cell phone, tweeting the revolution, or decoding the SARS genome, many hands make lighter work. With tools like blogs, wikis, web 2.0, and Twitter, groups working together, with faster results tackle formerly unsolvable problems. NYU Professor Clay Shirky has synthesized and analyzed the current and future of the internet revolution, presenting the reader with amazing examples of the power of social media in his book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.
We are now living in an era where information is cheap and readily accessible by most people in the developed world and a growing number in third world countries. The Internet is a tool that takes communication — which was formerly the domain of newspapers and magazines, television stations, movies, radio, and the recording industry, — and amassed it into one place with an endless supply of information and connectivity. The filters and gatekeepers are removed and information flows freely from bottom to top as well as top to bottom.
While institutions used to have the collaboration and coordination ability to create more complex products, such as cars or airplanes, now a restructuring is taking place and the spontaneous division of labor is possible.
Shirky gives the reader more than just an overview of the technological advances of the Internet, however. He explores what ordinary people can accomplish when armed with powerful collaboration tools. Using Flickr as an example, Shirky show how old ways have yielded to new: “Gather, then share,” is now “share, then gather.” Only with the efforts of millions of users organizing their own material could a site such as Flickr be sustainable from either a financial or a managerial sense. Shirky explores the state of journalism today, and whether having a publisher who’s financially invested in the tools of mass communication means someone deserves more credibility as a journalist than, say, a citizen sending photos of the London bombings to Flickr? A good case is made on behalf of these citizen journalists to be recognized as valuable forces in society in the downfall of Trent Lott example.
Moreover, one-way communication, from the newspaper publisher or movie executive to the audience has become democratized. Anybody with a computer can be a publisher; anyone with a video camera can become a YouTube phenomenon. But groups that have more members are harder to manage and once you’ve hit 10 or so people, it’s almost impossible to continue communicating in any intimate way.
Shirky explores the actions of groups that spontaneously form on the Internet. These groups involve sharing, conversation, collaboration and collective action. Users have different motivations for working within the groups: to exercise unused mental capacity, to make a mark on history, and simply to do a good thing. But the benefits to society at large, no matter what the motivation, is vast, with communities of practice, Wikipedia, and ITunesU, for example, as the fruits of collective labors and actions.
More examples of how one individual can change the status quo through collective action— including synchronizing the wills of the passengers who had to sit for many uncomfortable hours on the tarmac, to generating flash mobs that demonstrate an oppressive dictator’s reaction to ice cream-eating kids — enrich the reading experience.
Today millions of groups of people are spontaneously forming to share, converse, collaborate, and act. Many will hold political power, investigative power, intellectual power and social power. The printing press, telephone, television and digital recorder have re-emerged as one gigantic medium that lets people turn words into action, through the power of collaboration: The new hometown paper for a global world.