Creative Industries Book Club – Clay Shirky

Book club meeting number three and we take on Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody. I think there’s another more thoughtful summary of today’s lunchtime get-together to come from the Interactive Cultures team at Birmingham City University (our hosts). But in the meantime I wanted to just get down the bullet points in my head:

  • The group split three ways. Those liking Shirky’s clear approach to the subject and useful examples, those thinking it was okay but where’s the depth? and those thinking he misses the point too many times for it to be useful.
  • For the record I’m just past the second and heading towards the latter of those positions. I didn’t find it that engaging a read but sometimes a case study would leap out and chime well with what I’m doing.
  • The group heard from Jon Bounds about how the Big City Talk site came about. I doubt if I was alone in thinking that was a much richer case study than any of Shirky’s in the book.
  • Many felt that issues of class, sex and politics seem curiously absent from Shirky (even though his case studies are sometimes about political events) so the book felt curiously light-weight in many places.
  • There was much discussion about Birmingham’s social media scene and its relationship with the politics of the city. There was a consensus that there’s a richness to what’s happening in Brum but equally a concern about some being left out of the discussion because they don’t have access to the tools.
  • There was some debate over who should read this book. City officials, our mums, students or those heading up any large organisation were amongst the suggestions. I pitched in that in the City (that is, amongst council officers) no-one should read it. Better to have them understand how the civic-mindedness of a few bloggers helped almost doubled the number of responses to the Big City Plan.
  • Having read Leadbetter’s ‘We-Think‘ for our first book club meet (and hating it) I think the group feels we’ve now had enough of anything that falls into the ‘the internet is amazing’ or the ‘here’s how the world is changing’ categories. 
  • Not that it isn’t useful to feel inspired by the potential of change or excited by the tools that will accelerate it but dealing with fine grain of the debate and therefore questioning the utopian-quality of much of that kind of writing is what we should be doing next. Birmingham is ahead of the game of the game with our actions and if Shirky is somehow top of the tree for this kind of writing then I reckon we’re ahead of the game in our thinking as well. 

Next up is some obscure academic journal article that none of us will probably understand – title to be confirmed.

(pic of Shirky by Jol)

8 thoughts on “Creative Industries Book Club – Clay Shirky

  1. There is indeed another take on it here:

    To pick up and develop one of your points, I think what Jon Bound’s and Big City Talk offered as a case study was a touch of realism: Jon’s account was more realistic about the hard work that went into the project, and the sharp end of what it means to be the 20% who do 80% in the 80:20 rule. By contrast Shirky writes from the position of the 80% who can dip in and do 20% of the work: from this perspective collaborative work is a wonderful, easy and natural thing which gives the book it’s utopian gloss.

  2. and the case study on the “stolen” phone or “Sidekick” shows how much work someone who becomes obsessed can put in. The phone was worth about $300 and the hundreds of hours he put in were worth at least $10,000 dollars. Surely that is so far below the economic threshold as to be ridiculous. Big City Plan is a different kettle of fish as the outcome will affect thousands of people. Just more difficult for people to conceive of a response versus a single issue campaign like the phone. Hence the value of Jon’s hours in translation. I suggested that the Plan be Wikie’d as well as blogged/surveyed/chunked – so it could be a living document for what I would call the Middle market – it the informed amongst Joe Public who want to work their way through and make comments/changes. The Plan needs to be a living and dynamic document, and the responses to it need to be more than just a PR stunt for BCC.

  3. Without wanting to put words in Jon B’s mouth, there’s a logic to this being a blog and not a wiki.

    A wiki would be of use if the content of the document where mutable, flexible, open for debate: in this case it’s not. The content itself is what it is, the comments are then a mechanism for people to respond and have their say on the proposal.

    If Big City Talk had been a wiki, they would have been bogged down in the semantics of the translation and never got round to taking consultation.

    It’s important to make these distinctions so that people bring out the right bit of kit at the right time!

  4. Understand this, but I guess I would want to question the content of The Big City Plan and the questions posed at a fundamental level; as that would be more democratic. So, yes a wiki is not approproate given that this is a semi-democratic exercise. The Big City Plan sets the agenda and then asks for reponses without seeking to question the agenda ?

  5. >The Big City Plan sets the agenda and then asks for responses without seeking to question the agenda ?

    Certainly, John, I agree — I myself question it at the very basic level of “is growth (in size of city, seen as closely tied to economic growth) a laudable aim?”.

    If the city is to grow by 100,000 people in the next twenty years (as the plan mentions) — do we not ask the questions about whether that density of population is conducive to happiness? Would people not be happier in another city? I don’t know.

    These questions are outside the frame of the debate as far as the BCP is concerned — I think at this point in time all we could do was engage on the same level.

    There is also a small element of “muscle flexing” from the “unorganised organised” here — proof that we could contribute to the methods of debate as well as the debate itself.

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