BOOKCASE : Here Comes Everybody

• Clay Shirky

• Penguin Press

• RRP $40.00

Anyone who’s ever tried to coordinate night at the movies involving 12 friends living in different parts of the city with different time constraints and different tastes will be well aware that organising bigger groups absorbs more management resources. It’s why big organisations need managers – or do they?
Clay Shirky’s book explores how combination of new tools (computers, cellphones, social networking sites etc) has not only changed how groups communicate but how people with common purpose or interest can organise themselves to achieve goal faster and more effectively than ever before. “By making it easier for groups to self-assemble and for individuals to contribute to group effort without requiring formal management (and its attendant overhead),” says Shirky, “these tools have radically altered the old limits on the size, sophistication and scope of unsupervised effort.”
He chooses range of examples to demonstrate the scale and scope of this shift. There is the amplification of individual power demonstrated when the loss and subsequent theft of woman’s cellphone publicised via the web becomes cause that involves thousands and puts pressure on the New York Police Department to prosecute. There is the power of collective energy through which the world’s biggest encyclopaedia is created by millions of unsupervised contributors. There’s the phenomenon of blogging and how “amateur” news gatherers are affecting the collection, dissemination and even the content of news. There is also the amplified effect of lobby groups, shown when the repercussions of protest from Boston Catholics about the protection afforded to sexually predatory priest reverberate all the way to Rome.
We are living, says Shirky, in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race – more people can communicate more things to more people than has ever been possible in the past. And the effects of this can’t be controlled or contained. There are now thousands of experiments in new social forms going on every day and the important questions are not about whether these new tools will spread or reshape society – but rather, how they do so.
Like steering kayak through rapids, our principal challenge, he suggests, is not to decide where we want to go but rather to stay upright as we go there. His book at least helps illustrate the nature of the ride.

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