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)

Creative Industries Book Club

Now here’s a great idea: today we had the first meeting in Birmingham of a book club looking at books and policy documents of relevance to the Creative Industries. At the moment it consists of a small group of academics/researchers/lecturers at Birmingham City University but the plan is to widen its scope. Evidence of that comes from the fact that even though I’ve moved on I still got an invite as did someone who works for the Arts council and Creative Partnerships.

Up for discussion was ‘We-think’ by Charles Leadbetter. At the risk of truncating what was a wide-ranging discussion I’ll just say that nobody really thought the book was that great to be honest. Generally it’s so utopian about the future of how we function as a society, as shaped by the collaborative influence of the internet, that one of our group described it as “like overdosing on marshmallows or a double-dose of ecstasy with crack on top”. Many of the examples given in the book to exemplify We-think in action lack a sufficient depth (and in parts seem curiously under-researched) but there was value in some of them in highlighting that collaboration as Leadbetter conceptualises it isn’t a new thing. 

We touched on big themes – the role of cultural studies, the public sphere, praxis, technological determinism – and suggested that this was a book that would appeal to policy makers since it identified in straightforward terms the kind of opportunities for positive action that the web offers. That’s not a criticism (that policy-makers somehow can’t read complex stuff), rather a strength since academics who can articulate in clear terms are to be applauded. Which makes the lack of rigour in the book all the more disappointing, as is the occasional attempt at futurology – inadvisable in an era of such rapid change.

The above does little justice to two hours of superb debate and a realisation that this kind of discussion should also involve others who want to raise the level of debate about the Creative and Cultural Industries. It’s not in my remit to dish out invites but we meet again on the 17th December – drop a line to paul.long [at] bcu.ac.uk if you’re interested.

Up for discussion next the very-difficult-to-find-at-a-reasonable-price John Hope Mason’s ‘The Value of Creativity’ in the context of the government’s Creative Britain policy paper from earlier this year.

(pic by Sifter – British Library Reading room)