Notes on Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, Chs. 8, 9, 10, 11, and Epilogue


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

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

  • In the developed world, the experience of the average twenty-five-year-old is one of substantial overlap between online and offline friends and colleagues. The overlap is so great, in fact, that both the word and the concept of ‘cyberspace’ have fallen into disuse. The internet augments real-world social life rather than providing an alternative to it. Instead of becoming a separate cyberspace, our electronic networks are becoming deeply embedded in real life (196)
  • even in a mediated age, people crave real human contact (199)
  • one of the essential conundrums of social capital—inclusion implies exclusion (202)
  • Something is different [now]. It is easier for groups to form without social approval (205)
  • The enormous visibility and searchability of social life means that the ability for the like-minded to locate one another, and to assemble and cooperate with one another, now exists independently of social approval or disapproval (207)
  • Networked organizations are more resilient as a result of better communications tools and more flexible social structures, but this as true of terrorist networks or criminal gangs as of Wikipedians or student protesters….What are we going to do about the negative effects of freedom? (210)
  • social capital is that store of behaviors and norms in any large group that lets its members support one another (222)
  • Bonding capital is an increase in the depth of connections and trust within a relatively homogeneous group (222)
  • bridging capital is an increase in connections among relatively heterogeneous groups (222) [if the first group above is a homogeneous one, one might assume there is a grammatical issue in the second statement. Instead it might be that Shirky means that bridging capital produces a hetereogenous association of homogeneous groups]
  • The tightness of a large social network comes less from increasing the number of connections that the average member of the network can support than from increasing the number of connections that the most connected people can support (225)
  • can we say anything useful about the future social landscape? Yes, but only by switching focus from the individual tools themselves to the kinds of groups the tools are expected to support. Two of the most critical questions are ‘Does the group need to be small or large?’ and ‘Does it need to be short-lived or long-lived?’ (266)
  • no effort at creating group value can be successful without some form of governance (283)
  • One of the reasons e-mail campaigns continue, despite their near uselessness, is as a public show of force. The individual communications have been denatured, so the battle has moved to public claims of how many mails were sent, which play out in the court of public opinion, not in the halls of Congress. MoveOn, and every other organization that lobbies Congress, would be better served by a less convenient, more expensive tool, one that took real effort to use and so communicated real commitment on the part of the people writing in (287)
  • social tools don’t create new motivations so much as amplify existing ones (294)
  • The transistor and the birth control pill are quite unlike one another, but they do have one thing in common: they are both human-scale inventions that were pulled into society one person at a time, and they mattered more than giant inventions pushed along by massive and sustained effort. They changed society precisely because no one was in control of how the technology was used, or by whom (300)
  • we are going to get more groups, many more groups, than have ever existed before (303)
  • we will have to restructure society, from a strategy of prevention to one of monitoring and reaction, as a side effect of more control of media slipping into the hands of the citizens (309)
  • Despite the number of stories about collective action, though, they have one thing in common: they all rely on ‘stop energy,’ on an attempt to get some other organization or group to capitulate to the demands of the collected group (311)
  • Perhaps collective action is more focused on protesting than creating because collective action is simply harder than sharing or collaborating. This at least has a ring of truth about it—collective action is harder to get going because all the participants stand or fall together….As a result, collective action requires a much higher commitment to the group and the group’s shared goals than things like sharing of pictures or even collaborative creation of software (312)
  • we’re about to experience a revolution in collective action, and the driver of that revolution will be new legal structures that will support productive collective action (313-314)
  • What the GPL and related licenses allowed these groups to do was not simply to protest against existing structures, but to compete against them (315)
  • Governments and even companies are accustomed to being the target of protests, so as protests coordinated by social media become normal, their effectiveness will fall. A more remarkable and longer-lived change will be in the offing, though, if people are able to start using these tools to bypass government or commercial entities in favor of taking on problems directly. If this happens, it will be a far bigger challenge to the previous institutional monopolization on large-scale action than anything we have seen to date (318)
  • For us [those with ample life experience that is pre-internet], no matter how deeply we immerse ourselves in new kinds of technology, it will always have a certain provisional quality (320)
  • In times of revolution, though, the experienced among us make the opposite mistake [the opposite of thinking every new tool is revolutionary]. When a real, once-in-a-lifetime change comes along, we are at risk of regarding it as a fad (320)

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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1 Response to Notes on Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, Chs. 8, 9, 10, 11, and Epilogue

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