Clay Shirky as my Sound Byte Hero

I haven’t managed to write (publicly) for some time: new projects kept me busy, either launching, or preparing. But thanks to a tweet by Planspark, I read (yet another) piece by someone who is becoming my personal “Sound Byte Hero”: Clay Shirky. At the moment, Siegfried Woldhek and I are preparing a position paper on how International Development Cooperation will change, as part of a series of debates with existing organisations and the Minister for Development Cooperation here in The Netherlands. So when my friend Tim Bonnemann send out a tweet today “Must-read of the day: Clay Shirky’s “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable”, I summarised the take-away quotes for me.

My personal selection of “quotable quotes” from Clay Shirky’s “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable”

“With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.”

“As novelty spread, old institutions seemed exhausted while new ones seemed untrustworthy; as a result, people almost literally didn’t know what to think. If you can’t trust Aristotle, who can you trust?”

“And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.
There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.”

““You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model”

“Imagine, in 1996, asking some net-savvy soul to expound on the potential of craigslist, then a year old and not yet incorporated. The answer you’d almost certainly have gotten would be extrapolation: “Mailing lists can be powerful tools”, “Social effects are intertwining with digital networks”, blah blah blah. What no one would have told you, could have told you, was what actually happened: craiglist became a critical piece of infrastructure. Not the idea of craigslist, or the business model, or even the software driving it. Craigslist itself spread to cover hundreds of cities and has become a part of public consciousness about what is now possible. Experiments are only revealed in retrospect to be turning points.”

““If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as craigslist did, as Wikipedia did, as octavo volumes did.”

“Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.”

“No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the reporting we need.”

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