Communication Changes Society: A Review of ‘Here Comes Everybody’

Clay Shirky’s book is fun to read. A media studies professor at NYU, his book Here’s Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, provides concrete examples of how self assembly and group organization has changed with the evolution of the Internet. Using case study examples like Flickr and Linux, the book is relevant and captivating but doesn’t shy away from providing hard facts. Simple and precisely written, readers do not need to have a PhD to understand the concepts and ideas; rather Shirky’s book is a fun read for the average media fan. I agree with his main concept that declining costs in technology allow people to self assemble in ways not imagined before; he argues this trend is changing the way we communicate and in turn the way we look at the world and society.

Group activity is like a chain of volcanoes. By this Shirky means they are all linked by one invisible central driving force, although they appear separate. He begins his book with a witty story warning people what might happen should you upset a social media lover. He then talks about the influences of community, and the rise of people as content creators in comparison to traditional media outlets. Mass amateurization allows people to publish everything, and develops niche groups of people that would not have been reached through newspapers or magazines. This, according to Shirky is the future of the Internet. He uses the second half of the book to talk about some of the implications of these groups. For example the Small Group Paradox which is an ironic concept that makes us feel the Internet is truly connecting us all. The Internet is becoming ubiquitous and he concludes by talking about how our idealized views of the future are not just an improvement from what we already have, but something completely new.

This future starts with the Internet as a new ecosystem. It did not create competition for newspapers and the journalism trade, it is something new altogether. Shirky argues there is nothing inherently connecting different newspaper stories besides the physical ink, paper, and hierarchical management. He cites the emergence of mass amateurization as the key for society being able to loosen their grip on traditional media and embrace amateur news, which is often relatively better. Different than traditional media, and the politics influencing coverage, often blogs can go beyond the first swing at a story; they can continue to cover a story with minimal or no cost. As fascinating as this dynamic is, he doesn’t mention how personal obsession drives amateur coverage, and the system of checks and balances that should in place. While mass amateurization magnifies our freedom of speech with limitless coverage on almost any topic, only those who choose to make their content stand out are the ones who receive the most recognition. Unfortunately without a system of checks and balances, it is not the good content that is popular, rather the controversial or flashy content. Continue reading

We Are What We Create

The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom is a thought-provoking read. Author Yochai Benkler, Harvard professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, does justice to the complexity of social production by adding dimension to a subject often simply categorized as just the Internet. His involved discussion about the networked information economy is not for the casual reader. Rather, his book is intended for deeper reflection. Change in our non-rival “information revolution” is “deep,” as Benkler opens with. The length of his book serves to prove how deep it really is. Within this book he discusses the effects of the Internet on society, which links nicely to his TED talk[1] referring to the Internet as a permanent change, not a fashionable trend.

Benkler’s complex writing style ironically mirrors how multifaceted media are and his connection to social change is fascinating. Emphasizing key concepts like networked information economy and nonmarket, his book is neatly divided into three sections: The Networked Information Economy, The Political Economy of Property and Commons, and Policies of Freedom at a Moment of Transformation. Within the first section of the book, Benkler focuses on his observations of economics and the information economy. He introduces one of the key terms he refers to continually, the networked information economy. The deepening trend he talks about is put in motion by a ripple effect of advancing technology. This trend is put to the test in the second part of his book by explaining how these changes are affecting social interactions and culture. Part three talks about polices regarding this area and touches on the layers of regulation of digital information. These layers make us to look at how regulation affects the free flow of communication and information. Continue reading

“Free” is Here to Stay

Chris Anderson’s book Free: The Future of a Radical Price, is an excellent compilation of evidence and examples persuading us to buy into the concept that Free is here to stay. But with so much technological change, we don’t need much convincing that another dramatic shift is upon us. One way Americans deal with scarcity is uncovered in the ironic determination to eradicate starvation decades ago; now today’s generation is combating obesity. This ironic relationship defines the path for his book, detailing how the future of business will make money around the notion of Free. According to Anderson this isn’t a fad, these new models like “freemium” are here to stay.

As a customer, there is a huge difference between what is free and what is cheap. Citing Dan Ariely, professor at Duke University, he highlights “zero is not just another price, it turns out, zero is an emotional hot button,” (p 63). The concept of Free is important because the majority of company’s today strive in an environment where raising demand for one thing, is gained by giving a complimentary item away for free. This is showcased in the story of Gillette razors.

The meat of Anderson’s book sits on the concept of Moore’s Law, which concludes the cost of technology is cut in half every few years and even quicker at times. With costs like this, companies are able to shift business models by focusing on making profit through programs like Google’s Adsense or thrive off the premium service subscribers from sites like Flickr or Amazon. Anderson provides a lot of evidence to back up his hypothesis with case studies from Microsoft, Craigslist and the Chinese music market, as well an easy to understand account of economics. Continue reading