Every once in a while you read a book with such fresh ideas, clarity, crisp writing and aha moments that it literally jumps off the page.
For anyone who hasn’t read the book, it’s an essential text that examines social networks from a historical, theoretical and practical perspective; seamlessly interweaving present and past. The author provides a context to better understand the ch-ch-changes unfolding all around us.
Shirky, a consultant and adjunct professor in the graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, has a deep grasp of social media and a straightforward way of articulating complex ideas. He contends we’re in the midst of a communications revolution, akin to the creation of Gutenberg’s printing press. And because we’re enmeshed in it, no one can predict exactly where we’re heading and what new developments we will see. As an example, he cites the publishing industry and the fact that when the printing press was invented, few could predict it would spawn a bookselling industry and portability of shared knowledge – the parallels with smart phones are not hard to see.
He also talks about professions like journalism and how they’re based on a scarcity of resources. This makes sense. Not too long ago (last year?), all journalists were specialists in their field, employed by media companies (another scarce resource) to present and interpret news. Along comes social networking and all of a sudden anyone can report news – and does. We’re not talking about quality or talent or editorial integrity – just the act of reporting.
According to Shirky, the ‘management’ function of the industry has changed. In the past, editors would hear about a story and send a reporter to cover it. These days, it’s hard to find breaking news that citizen journalists haven’t uncovered because they happen to be there and have the technology at hand.
These are just a few of the topics Clay Shirky covers in a book that’s hard to put down, poses questions and challenges us to imagine the future that’s just around the corner.