Technologies Changing Society

    In the continuation of Here Comes Everybody, Shirky expands on the effects of society no longer being constrained by transaction costs.  In chapter 3 he focuses on how society has come to a period of mass amateurization and its implications; chapter 6 is on new the forms of collective action, chapter 7 is on how powerful collective action can be versus individual action, and his TED talk reiterates these points emphasizing effective use of society’s new tools.

         Shirky’s main argument is that “revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technology, it happens when society adopts new behaviors (book cover);” society is currently amidst a revolution and Shirky explains how.  The fact that with the internet our communication tools are cheaper and better facilitating innovative uses (77), first and foremost, deprofessionalizes publishing—it is now easy and free to generate and spread information.  Information through traditional media is expense; each word on a newspaper page includes at least the costs for paper, ink, and the salary of the staff.  Due to this, selection is an unavoidable.  Mass amateurization undoes this limitation.  The unlimited perfect copyability of internet technology, which Shirky uses anecdotes of weblogs and email to illustrate, redefines newsworthiness changing the question from “why publish this?” to “why not?” (60). Now that everyone can publish, it is no longer a skill rare enough to pay for.  Mass amateurization has broken professional categories; weblogs gives everyone the ability to commit journalistic acts.  The dilemma then arises who receives professional benefits.  Society must now adopt to the changes in publishing.

    Mass amateurization has also changed non-professional means of information sharing.  Email, instant messaging, private messages are all acts of publishing although the message is addressed to a limited amount of people.  Since the receiver of the message has the same tools to become a sender, the original sender has no control over the path of their message.  An email can appear on a blog becoming a news story.

    This leads to why communication technologies improve collective action.  Shirky compares the 2002 exposé on a sexually-abusive Priest to a 1992 exposé in order to show how “social tools don’t create collective action—they merely remove the obstacles to it (159)”.  In 2002 information is now easy to share and, in turn, allowed for easy, effective coordination of a national reaction.  Global didn’t have to spread their story; due to the internet, individuals did that effortlessly.  New communication tools allowed for the outrage, which was present but short-lived in 1992, to spread eliminating the church’s ability to wait out the scandal.  Debates on blogs involved the collection of information which maintained and spread awareness resulting in damaging collective action.  This internet model of group formation allows strong collective action for, as Shirky states in the video, the internet (being of the many-to-many structure) is the first medium to facilitate group conversation—it is the first medium to fit social networks.   

Social network

Consumers are now producers

    With his discussion of flash mobs, Shirky then expands on this explanation of the force groups can now exert due to this technological change.  Technology allows for social awareness of information on the level that everybody knows that everybody knows that everybody knows, allowing for real public action (163).  Group formation can now be invisible while their actions immediately become visible improving society’s ability of political action: “uncoordinated actors can create a public protest that the government can neither interdict…nor suppress without triggering public documentation (171)”.  This is the point in the video Shirky uses the story on China to demonstrate; Chinese officials had to remove complete access to internet site in order to prevent further documentation from leaking.

    The last example in the TED video of group formation on Obama’s website emphasizes Shirky’s last point that society needs new behaviors due to new media.  By Obama not shutting down the “Get FISA Right” group which protested his policy decision, his campaign showed how this media is to be used.  The purpose of media now is to give people a voice, not to control or suppress them.   

    The revolution that followed the printing press, proving the inefficiency of scribes, showed how changes that threaten professionalism can benefit society.  New communication technologies are benefiting society by facilitating existing social network structures–consumers are allowed to be producers.  However, for the most efficient use, society must adopt a range of new behaviors.

4 responses to “Technologies Changing Society

  1. I have a question for the group: Do you think that the internet has increased or decreased political awareness? Information is easier to share but this amateurization has also made it easier to spread false information.

  2. I feel that, while there is a never-ending availability of wrong data, the internet has still definitely increased political awareness. It is a medium that allows for a rapid spread of information and has become a huge part of most people’s lives. In this sense, it’s even harder to avoid political information (I’m sure everyone’s seen facebook statuses about the past election) even if one is not actively seeking it out. Further, with the increase of opinions and rumors being twisted to look like facts, we have also increased our wariness of the web. We have become more selective when seeking out information, not just believing everything set before us. We know to seek out political information in trusted news sites, and, at the very least, to check the sources. Also, the web encourages political awareness through chatrooms and discussions which can evoke opinions and engage a user to become even more knowledgeable and aware of the topic (in this case, politics).

  3. I definitely think the internet has increased political awareness. I get most(if not all my political news) from the internet, even when I’m not searching for it. I go to forums (which is you can only do on the internet) to engage in group conversations that have nothing to do with politics and I still see people talking about political issues and happenings. The internet makes it easy to send people you know political articles and videos so I think it’d be hard for people’s political awareness to not increase.

  4. I definitely think the Internet has increased political awareness as well. Yes, false information is pumped through the Web on a daily basis, however, it is up to the user to be able to discern ‘good’ website from ‘bad’ (i.e., the NY Times political blog versus — yes this exists). The Internet has provided an endless platform for discussion for all subjects and types of people. Its flexibility and accessibility and next-to-nothing costs have made it a dependable environment to gather information. Like Shirky highlights, Internet technology did not revolutionize the media, it just broke down the barriers that used to limit its accessibility – the Internet has just broken down old limitations of communication and news distribution.

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