Notes on Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, Chs. 3 and 4


The Power of Organizing without Organizations
Clay Shirky
London: Penguin, 2008

The notes below are direct transcriptions, except for what appears in square brackets.

  • Our social tools remove older obstacles to public expression….The result is the mass amateurization of efforts previously reserved for media professionals (55)
  • not only is the internet not a newspaper, it isn’t a business, or even an institution (56)
  • the scarcity of the resource itself [i.e., printed publishing] creates the need for a professional class….In these cases, professionals become gatekeepers, simultaneously providing and controlling access to information, entertainment, communication, or other ephemeral goods (57)
  • The future presented by the internet is the mass amateurization of publishing and a switch from “Why publish this?” to “Why not?” (60)
  • [note Shirky’s discussion about how blog postings have altered the news cycle in some cases, forcing stories that were overlooked by mainstream media, or older stories, to gain wider attention, forcing the media to then cover the stories]
  • From now on news can break into public consciousness without the traditional press weighing in. Indeed, the news media end up covering the story because something has broken into public consciousness via other means (64-65)
  • The same idea, published in dozens or hundreds of places, can have an amplifying effect that outweighs the verdict from the smaller number of professional outlets (65) [and is that a “good thing”?]
  • The individual weblogs are not merely alternate sites of publishing; they are alternatives to publishing itself, in the sense of publishers as a minority and professional class (66)
  • [note Shirky’s discussion of the remaking of the intellectual landscape in the wake of the Protestant Reformation – not caused by movable type, but made possible by it]
  • Professional self-conception and self-defense, so valuable in ordinary times, become a disadvantage in revolutionary ones, because professionals are always concerned with threats to the profession (69)
  • the definition of journalist is not internally consistent but rather is tied to ownership of communications machinery (72)
  • [quoting Scott Bradner] “The internet means you don’t have to convince anyone else that something is a good idea before trying it” (77)

  • The media landscape is transformed, because personal communication and publishing, previously separate functions, now shade into one another (81)
  • filtering is increasingly social, and happens after the fact (81)
  • User-generated content is a group phenomenon, and an amateur one (83)
  • Someone writing for thousands of people…or millions, has to start choosing who to respond to and who to ignore, and over time, ignore becomes the default choice. They have, in a word, become famous (93)
  • scale alone, even in a medium that allows for two-way connections, is enough to create and sustain the imbalance of fame (93)
  • Egalitarianism is possible only in small social systems (93)
  • In the weblog world there are no authorities, only masses, and yet the accumulated weight of attention continues to create the kind of imbalances we associate with traditional media (94)
  • The limiting effect of scale on interaction is bad news for people hoping for the dawning of an egalitarian age ushered in by our social tools (95)
  • we can no longer hope for a world where everyone can interact with everyone else (95)
  • Any cost creates some sort of barrier, and the high cost of most traditional media creates high barriers….Since the basic economics of publishing puts a cap on the overall volume of content, it forces every publisher or producer to filter the material in advance….anyone producing traditional media has to decide what to produce and what not to (97)
  • Mass amateurization has created a filtering problem vastly larger than we had with traditional media, so much larger, in fact, that many of the old solutions are simply broken (98)
  • Mass amateurization of publishing makes mass amateurization of filtering a forced move (98)
  • The expansion of social media means that the only working system is publish-then-filter (98)
  • [quoting Cory Doctorow:] “Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about” (99)
  • [quoting William S. Burroughs:] “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly” (99)
  • [community of practice:] a group of people who converse about some shared task in order to get better at it (100)
  • Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society; they are a challenge to it. A culture with printing presses is a different kind of culture from one that doesn’t have them. New technology makes new things possible: put another way, when new technology appears, previously impossible things start occurring. If enough of these impossible things are important and happen in a bundle, quickly, the change becomes a revolution (107)
  • The hallmark of revolution is that the goals of the revolutionaries cannot be contained by the institutional structure of the existing society (107)

About Maximilian C. Forte

I am a professor of anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. My areas of research and teaching interest are centered in Political Anthropology, with a focus on imperialism, neoliberalism and globalization, nationalism, democracy, and the international political economy of knowledge production.
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