Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations combines the revolution of social networking with real world, real people examples. Throughout the book, Mr. Shirky takes what could have easily ended up as classic case studies (boring) and brings them to life with characters and a sense of drama. This technique draws the reader in and gets them to care about what’s happening to these people, then adroitly connects the story line to the world of social networking.
His examples span the globe and cover both commonplace happenings (someone loses their cell phone) to lightning rod subjects (the Catholic church scandals). He effortlessly weaves psychology, sociology, anthropology and business into a compelling story that explains the world of social media as not something mysterious, but commonplace, even routine. Perhaps not so yet, but it’s definitely moving in that direction and quickly.
Mr. Shirky believes someone’s age has a big impact on social tool adoption. The idea that older people have to unlearn old things in order to embrace and adopt the new things. He says:
…young people are taking better advantage of social tools, extending their capabilities in ways that violate old models not because they know more useful things than we [older people] do but because they know fewer useless things than we do… Meanwhile my students, many of them fifteen years younger than I am, don’t have to unlearn those things, because they never had to learn them in the first place.
Doesn’t that mean that young people today are learning more things now, that will be useless much sooner than what we learned?
This evoked for me the concept of the disappearing internet. As so many things now ship connected to the web and access to it is becoming ubiquitous. So much so that the concept of the internet recedes into the background. This has energized the development of new devices that can access the web and replace older form factors.
George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research wrote a post on his blog entitled The Digital Vanishing Act. He has crafted a list of devices or platforms and what they have replaced. “Wikipedia made my Britannica go away, E-Z pass vaporized the friendly toll taker” and so forth.
It’s a bit of a wake up call to execs that continue to rely on their experience and track record as a rationalization against the growing disappearance of all things familiar. If they don’t unlearn that lesson, they won’t learn the new one, and it won’t end well for them.
Bottom line, the need for human to human connection is as strong as ever. People will instinctively organize to accomplish their goals and gain power, and the convergence of devices/platforms and the web is accelerating the process. Social networking cannot be stopped. It’s like life, it will find a way.
Here Comes Everybody is a bit long, but thoughtful and accessible. Well worth the time. You can find Clay Shirky’s Internet Writings here.