We asked Clay Shirky to comment on his current work and ideas that have influenced him…
Which of your own ideas have you been thinking about most recently?
I’ve been thinking about a range of participation, from LOLcats through Open Source software. These examples of participation run along aspectrum from communal value – value created by and for the participants, like LOLcats – all the way to civic value – value created by the participants but for the world at large, like Open Source software. The ability to create communal value seems fairly secure – I have a hard time imagining a future where someone has to ask “Where o’ where can I upload a cute picture of my cat?” The ability to create civic value, by contrast, seems far from secured. The creation of civic value,f rom open source software to political protests to medical sites like Patients Like Me, almost always challenges some part of the status quo. The real struggle now is whether our culture has the stomach for new kinds of civic value, given that those kinds of participatory models almost always put older forms of society, business, and culture under stress.
What idea of someone else has made most impact on you recently?
Last summer, Yochai Benkler observed that “loosely coupled systems need motivated actors”, by which he meant that participatory systems that operate outside markets and managerial structure work by appealing to people with freely disposable time and talents. The most loosely coupled system of all is society as a whole; to get a society that can take advantage of our recently increased connectedness, we need motivated actors to turn possibility into reality.
What is the most important book/article of ideas that everyone should read and why?
Right now, I’d pick either Richard Rorty’s Trotsky and the Wild Orchids or Dave Hickey’sHeresy of the Zone Defense. Both outline (in very different ways) a pragmatic philosophy in which in which it is critical to determine “the moment when a rule ceases to liberate and begins to govern.”
And finally, each year we ask everyone involved – audiences as well as speakers – one question. Charles Masterman, Liberal Party politician and journalist, asked in his book The Condition of England 100 Years Ago: “What will the future make of the present?” What is your answer to this?
They will envy us for being the first generation to experience the most abundant, inclusive, and flexible medium the world has ever known. They will then wonder why we wasted so much time fretting about how much this would change things, instead of just getting on with the business of changing things.
Clay Shirky teaches at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, where he researches the interrelated effects of social and technological networks. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Times, Harvard Business Review, Business 2.0 Wired, and he is a regular keynote speaker at tech conferences. He is the author of the books Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.