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Clay Shirky

American technology writer
Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky (born 1964) is an American writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies.



  • When we change the way we communicate, we change society.
    • Shirkey (2008), cited in: Jennex, Murray (2012). Managing Crises and Disasters with Emerging Technologies. p. 3
  • The members of the Invisible College did not live to see the full flowering of the scientific method, and we will not live to see what use humanity makes of a medium for sharing that is cheap, instant, and global (both in the sense of 'comes from everyone' and 'goes everywhere.') We are, however, the people who are setting the earliest patterns for this medium. Our fate won't matter much, but the norms we set will. Given what we have today, the Internet could easily become Invisible High School, with a modicum of educational material in an ocean of narcissism and social obsessions. We could, however, also use it as an Invisible College, the communicative backbone of real intellectual and civic change.

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus, April 26, 2008Edit

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus, April 26, 2008. (video of the talk)

  • If I had to pick the critical technology for the 20th century, the bit of social lubricant without which the wheels would've come off the whole enterprise, I'd say it was the sitcom. [...] For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before--free time.
And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV. [...]
And it's only now, as we're waking up from that collective bender, that we're starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis. We're seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody's basement.
  • I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago, and one of them was talking about sitting with his four-year-old daughter watching a DVD. And in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen. [...] And her dad said, "What you doing?" And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, "Looking for the mouse."
    Here's something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here's something four-year-olds know: Media that's targeted at you but doesn't include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. [...]
    We're going to look at every place that a reader or a listener or a viewer or a user has been locked out, has been served up passive or a fixed or a canned experience, and ask ourselves, "If we carve out a little bit of the cognitive surplus and deploy it here, could we make a good thing happen?" And I'm betting the answer is yes.

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, 2008Edit

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, 2008

  • Society is not just the product of its individual members; it is also the product of its constituent groups. The aggregate relations among individuals and groups, among individuals within groups, and among groups forms a network of astonishing complexity.
    • p. 14
  • We use the word "organization" to mean both the state of being organized and the groups that do the organizing... We use one word for both because, at a certain scale, we haven't been able to get organization without organizations; the former seems to imply the latter.
    • p. 29
  • The typical organization is hierarchical, with workers answering to a manager, and that manager answering to a still-higher manager, and so on. The value of such hierarchies is obvious-it vastly simplifies communication among the employees. New employees need only one connection, to their boss, to get started. That's much simpler than trying to have everyone talk to everyone.
    • p. 29
  • Because Wikipedia is a process, not a product, it replaces guarantees offered by institutions with probabilities supported by process: if enough people care enough about an article to read it, then enough people will care enough to improve it, and over time this will lead to a large enough body of good enough work to begin to take both availability and quality of articles for granted, and to integrate Wikipedia into daily use by millions.
    • p. 139-140

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